Kathy Fish’s stories have been published in Guernica, Indiana Review, The Denver Quarterly, and elsewhere. She guest edited Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web 2010 and has published three collections of short fiction: A chapbook in A PECULIAR FEELING OF RESTLESSNESS: FOUR CHAPBOOKS OF SHORT SHORT FICTION BY FOUR WOMEN (Rose Metal Press, 2008), WILD LIFE (Matter Press, 2011), and TOGETHER WE CAN BURY IT (forthcoming from The Lit Pub). Her blog can be found here.
Kathy Fish interview with Meg Tuite
I just read “Wild Life,” again and am mesmerized by the movement of your characters, dialogue, stories. They have their own pulse. I find something buried deeper with each reading. I’ve been sharing “Petunias” with my flash fiction classes. You have many admirers in Santa Fe as well as everywhere else on the map. I’m a huge fan. I am looking forward to your new collection coming out through The Lit Pub.
Your two exceptional stories, “Neil Figgens,” and “A Pirate or a Cowboy,” are both intimate moments in very different ways between two characters.
“Neil Figgens” had a touch of Flannery O’Connor in it. I’m remembering her story, “Revelation,” set in a doctor’s office. But more than just the setting, it’s the intriguing exchange between the two main characters, Neil and Beth. He’s the older of the two, but she is direct and keeps at him even when he goes inside himself from time to time.
“It smells good. It smells like lavender if lavender were very lonely.”
And the fluid transitions from moment to moment. Neil is thinking of his mom and her job as a phlebotomist. And then Beth asks if he fishes. Really exceptional.
“If it’s been a good day she’ll smile and say the veins were great, as fat as earthworms.”
“Do you fish?” the girl says.
Can you tell us about your inspiration for this story?
Thanks for the kind words, Meg. Flannery O’ Connor!
This past year, I’ve had to make frequent visits to my doctor’s office, nothing serious, mostly for B12 shots. A poster like the one in the story had been hanging on the wall there. And they were selling candy bars to raise money for this kid’s medical bills. Seeing that poster once a week got me to wondering about him. I couldn’t stop thinking about him. What was his life like? Did the poster bug him or make him uncomfortable? What was it like to be that young and that ill? Eventually I grew a story around him and gave him some characters to play off of. I wanted to see what he would think and say and do. And I wanted someone to boldly ask the question I wanted to ask: How does it feel?
The poster is no longer hanging on the wall of my doctor’s office. I don’t have the courage to ask about it.
“A Pirate or a Cowboy,” develops this exquisite rhythm between a father and a daughter and the depths of their love for each other.
“We bend and straighten our legs, rocking the swing slow, watching a squirrel eat the ear of corn my dad’s nailed to the tree. For some reason I imagine my dad’s heart nailed there too.”
‘Do you remember when you used to play the oboe?” Dad says.
‘Of course I do.’ I have never played the oboe. I’m not even exactly sure what an oboe is.”
You give us so much in those few lines. A trust that comes from a life together and an unspoken understanding, a celebration of her dad’s life. And yet, there’s that grief breathing beneath each word, because we realize they don’t have much time left. How does a story come to you? Do you go with a visual of a character or do the words come to you? There’s such beauty in the simplicity that gathers so much feeling behind it. Sublime!
Thank you, Meg. So many of my stories start with a certain rhythm of language I hear in my head. This began as a series of very plain sounding statements, facts, of a medical nature (I’m obsessed with science and medicine, geeky stuff). And I started to formulate a story, sort of interspersing one sound with another: the flat, factual sentences with a soft flowing narrative. I settled on the heart and found my two characters and the first draft was much longer, going back and forth like that for several paragraphs.
I thought it was pretty cool, but I’ve learned to distrust it when I’m too pleased with a story right away. So I set it aside and came back and realized that even though I liked the sound of the story, the emotion was buried under the facts. Eventually I cut all but one of the facts and stayed with the father and daughter. I pared down their dialogue and settled on a few, spare visuals. I’m so glad the simplicity of the story works here.
Who are you reading at this time?
I’m reading Zadie Smith and Junot Diaz and Etgar Keret and liking them all in different ways. I keep picking up Moby Dick and setting it back down again which is good exercise.
I’ve been reading Etgar Keret also. I went to hear Lydia Davis read a few months ago and she said you’ve got to read him and I’m thankful she did. He’s amazing. When did you first start writing and then when did you send out that first story, hoping for publication?
I started writing as a child. It was a sort of secret activity of mine. Then I wrote plays in grade school and my best friend produced and cast them and we managed to convince our teacher to let us put on the shows for the class. My plays were gruesome and hilarious. Lots of fake blood. Lots of pratfalls. My classmates loved them. It’s probably the most popular success I’ve ever enjoyed as a writer. I think of it as my pinnacle.
Then I grew up, went to college, got a job, got married, started raising a family--all the usual stuff--and didn’t write at all for many years. I was nearly 40 when I took a creative writing class for fun, joined the Zoetrope Virtual Studios, and met writers who were much more talented and accomplished than I was. Even though I was writing lots of stories I never saw myself as publishing anything. One day an editor who was also a member of Zoetrope wrote to me and asked for two of my stories for his online journal. I guess that gave me the confidence I needed because soon after that I started sending lots of work out.
Do you prefer the flash fiction to longer short stories?
No preference. I read both. I actually read more long stories than flash. And right now I’m writing more long stories than flash.
Have you written any poetry or other genres? Find yourself moving into new or unexplored territory in your work?
I think some of my writing qualifies as prose poetry. The very short pieces. I’ve written one sentence stories and one paragraph stories and experimental stuff, with repeating rhythms and no story-like arc. I haven’t gone outside the genre of literary fiction and I haven’t attempted a novel. Yet.
Tell us about the new collection and how it came together.
At first I was solicited to write a chapbook. I’d pulled together what felt like a good, small collection of only flash fiction and gave it the title “Tenderoni.” Then Molly Gaudry formed her press, The Lit Pub, and asked if we might instead do a full collection, including some of my short stories. The book evolved quite a bit from there. Stories that worked for the chapbook no longer worked for the full collection. I brought in lots of newer work. Molly helped quite a bit in this process. I divided it into sections, each its own little book, though I think all the sections come together nicely. I really love the final result and the beautiful cover. It’s a book I feel very proud of and am very grateful to The Lit Pub for publishing.
Do you have a schedule that you adhere to or do your write whenever you are compelled to pick up the pen?
I go back and forth on this. For long stretches I adhere to a schedule, write daily with set hours, and then I have periods where I hardly write at all. I do think that working habitually trains your mind to get into creative mode more easily. However, I also believe that fallow periods serve their purpose too and I’ve never successfully forced myself out of these times. I don’t like the term “blocked” because it sounds like an embarrassing medical condition. I think of it as creative down time where things are being worked on subconsciously. At least that’s what I tell myself.
What music, if any, inspires you?
The singer/songwriters inspire my writing probably the most. Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Jackson Browne, Joni Mitchell, Neil Finn. Lyrics that tell a story inspire me. Folk music, new folk music, some indie stuff. Sad, bluesy songs always make me want to write. My favorite music of all is Motown and the soul music from the 70s when I was growing up. When my friends were watching American Bandstand I was watching Soul Train. I’m not sure there’s any connection to my writing, but that’s the music that gives me goosebumps and just the kind of pure joy that inspires everything.
Give us a great quote that filters through you, makes sense on so many levels.
This simple quote from Willa Cather:
“That is happiness; to be dissolved into something completely great.”
Thank you so much, Kathy, for your pure brilliance!
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