Murder (421 Atlanta, 2016)
In your new book Murder, is there any specific inspiration or plotting behind the order of the small fictions?
Yes, I wanted the stories to build from individuals committing murder to stories more humanity-based, to take it from the specific to the general. There is some generality in the individual stories, too, since the characters are always unnamed. But I wanted the murderer characters to become more inclusive as the book progressed.
What was your motivation behind writing Murder as a whole and what do you want readers to take away from it?
My initial motivation was craft-based. I found I was writing long, meandering sentences and making my stories too complicated. I wanted to see if I could strip my sentences and plots to basic elements while still creating suspense, surprise, and feeling.
What I want my readers to take away from it is that, you, too, can be capable of murder! Even if indirectly.
What are your goals for craft now?
My goals now are to still be succinct, but have a bit more fun on the sentence-level.
In your story that was featured in Best Small Fictions “It Will Never Be Deep Enough,” you created a character so real it feels like nonfiction. How do you break down the walls to create such vivid and realistic characters? Do you base your writings on personal experience?
The motivation for this story started as how I imagined someone might gossip about me at a party. I don’t know of any gossip about me, or if people at parties ever have gossiped about me, though I do assume everyone gossips about someone at some point. I thought it would be funny to explore what someone would say about me that wasn’t nice. That was the starting point, but a lot of the details are made up, as is the situation. I did make a chair out of a pallet, though.
That story, and its companion “Between You and Me” in Alice Blue Review, are two that are most based on me (but not really!). When creating characters, it’s important to keep in mind that a character is more than just a sum of their quirks. There has to be a background there, even if the reader doesn’t know what the background is.
Who is your favorite character you have ever written about and why?
I have a soft spot for the character Jolene Hopewell I wrote about in “The Agenda Futility,” published by the excellent Two Serious Ladies. It was the first story I had ever published, and I think the third story I wrote after a long hiatus from writing after college. I wanted to write about a misunderstood woman who was ahead of her time and rediscovered after she went missing. At the end, we get to hear Jolene in her own words, and I wanted that to be reaffirming and surprising.
What can we expect from your future book about daydreams?
A peek into the absurd nonsense that goes on in my head when I listen to music, or when I’m at a lecture, or when I’m tuning out a conversation. I also want to explore daydreams in literature, what purpose daydreaming serves people, and what it serves me specifically. Maybe some pop science.
Have you started working on your dystopian mystery that you mentioned in The Heavy Feather Review and could you give us any hints about other things that are in the works?
I had two excerpts from that published a couple years ago, in Alice Blue Review and Monkeybicycle. But I haven’t worked on it since. I think I sat on the idea too long and it lost its sparkle by being in my head for a long time and by the onslaught of dystopian stories that we’ve seen recently. I liked the stories I published though; maybe I will go back to it someday.
Other things in the works is the book about daydreams, and a novel that takes place in my hometown Newburgh, New York, that I’ve been avoiding writing my whole life until I couldn’t avoid it anymore.
Can you give us any details on the novel based in Newburgh to hold us over until its fruition?
The book is about the main character, Gloria, solving a crime by reading old diaries, then having to decide whether it’s worth it to tell anyone. It’s also about a place that has haunted me all my life.
I’m guessing that your stories are born from all sorts of reasons – wonder, general curiosity, or attention to craft. Is there a certain way that stories begin that you like more than others?
I like it when they are fully formed in my head! That’s happened only a couple of times, but every once in a while I’ll sit down to write and the whole thing comes out. There still has to be revising, but the plot and heart are fully realized and it’s just a matter of cleaning up. It’s just easier that way, but it’s rare.
You wrote on your blog that Wedlocked and The Folded Clock were some of your better reads of 2015. Has anything topped those in 2016 so far?
I loved Wedlocked because I felt like it was a companion to the daydream book I’m writing. Jay Ponteri explores his stupid fantasies during a rough time in his marriage, and it was engrossing for me because I had never read such a deep dive into someone’s internal life like that before. He wrote, in detail, not just that he had a crush on someone, but the scenarios that he constructed in his head around this crush. I found that fascinating and delicious. The Folded Clock had a lot of that too. After reading a daydream essay of mine, Amanda Miska, who is the editor of Split Lip Magazine and a great short-story writer, sent me Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be?, correctly guessing that I would love it. I’m a sap for tales of female friendship and art, and a narrator who explores her own motivations. Also enjoyed Uzodinma Okehi’s Over the Rockwell, which I bought after seeing him read and cracking the audience up with a heartfelt ridiculous cover letter for a submission to a literary journal. My cover letters are usually nothing more than “Please consider this, thanks!” so I was impressed/ chastised.
Other than your residence, where do you feel the most at home in New York City?
Spoonbill & Sugartown books on Bedford Ave, the bar section of Odessa that’s not there anymore, blowing a kiss at the camera while riding the Cyclone, getting a slice from Carmine’s in Greenpoint that’s not there anymore, at the annual bake sale at City Reliquary around the corner, the Flatiron building where I worked for seven years, getting dresses pulled for me at Cheap Jack’s that isn’t there anymore. I’m moving upstate to New Paltz at the end of the month, can you tell I’m already nostalgic?