Archive for May 2009

Chapbook by Thomas Cooper available for pre-sale

If you loved Thomas Cooper’s story “Spoon” (Inch #8) as much as we did, you will be excited to hear about the release of his chapbook coming up next month. Phantasmagoria, which contains “Spoon” and 16 other short shorts, was selected by Michael Martone as the winner of Keyhole Press’ 2008 fiction chapbook contest.

The chapbook will be released on June 9th, but you can pre-order now at Keyhole Press.  Do it!

Author Interview: Cynthia Reeves

Here at Bull City Press we mostly stand around chewing cud, but every now and then we like to shake things up and chew the fat.

Author Photo

For our first installment in this series, Jordan Wingate, UNC-CH student and Bull City assistant extraordinaire, gave Cynthia Reeves (photo) as many words as she wanted to expound on tiny fiction. Cynthia Reeves earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College. Her work has appeared in a number of journals and anthologies, including Ontario Review, Colorado Review, and most recently, Wreckage of Reason. Badlands, her first book, won Miami University Press’s 2006 Novella Contest and was published in December 2007. Among other awards and recognitions, her flash fiction “The Wedding Dress” won New Millennium’s 2006 Short-Short Fiction Prize. Cynthia is currently at work on a series of linked stories set in post-World War I Italy, and a contemporary novel set in mid-coast Maine.

Jordan: Before receiving your MFA in creative writing, you largely studied economics as an undergraduate. At 300 words, “Flight” itself is written very economically, and there also exist small economies of give-and-take within the story: the exchange between pain and religion; between belief and security; between appearance and love. Do you feel that your previous interest in economics is pushing through into your writing?

Cyndi: I’d say the holdover from my econ days is more my tendency to be analytical, and perhaps that trait finds its way into my writing. After I finish writing a draft of a story, I try to discover its underlying “system,” the way its subconscious idea(s), symbols, actions, and so forth work together to tell more than just the surface story. In this case, I was fascinated by the correspondence between Callie’s attempt to hold on to the things of the earth (and especially her son), even as those things drifted away, and her attempt to embrace the spiritual as solace in the midst of her dying. I trimmed away anything in the early drafts that didn’t serve these enmeshed purposes. The story thus became this miniature sort of almost prose poem honoring the push-pull of death and the promise of an afterlife.

Jordan: In your story “Flight,” the mother, Callie, believes she is floating on a cloud and sees her son Danny floating away with white angel wings. Though these are only hallucinations from the painkillers she receives in her hospital bed, you make a point of saying that the relief of morphine almost made her believe in God. Could you talk a little more about why you fused drugs, heaven, and disease your story?

Cyndi: A friend of mine died of cancer. A fallen-away Catholic, she struggled at the end of her life to find some way back to faith, or at least back to a belief in God. Her biggest fear was that God would know she was only trying to get back in His good graces because she was dying. We laughed over that, but the undercurrent of fear created sadness and psychic pain. She also struggled with leaving her eight-year-old son behind when she died. In the last two months of her life, she was on a morphine pump to relieve pain, and the increasing doses of morphine caused her to hallucinate. One night near the end, I was alone with her in her family room when she started talking to her son as if he were floating past us. Then she turned to me, lucid again, and asked if she just told me her son had wings. I said yes, and we laughed at that too and then went on with our conversation. I wondered later how much of that hallucination was informed by her fears – of leaving and being left, of being abandoned by God, and so forth. And so I merged all of these things in the story.

Jordan: It has been said that any good character should be like an iceberg, meaning that the author must know the 90 percent of the character’s background that the reader never sees in order to create the believable 10 percent that the reader does see. Your recent novel Badlands exemplifies this statement, insofar as it began with what you called a “failed” six-page short story you wrote ten years ago and later expanded in to a 200+ page book. With shorter fiction and micro-fiction especially, do you think it is important for the writer to have a profound understanding of the world their story creates, in spite of the brevity of the form?

Cyndi: The danger in creating both the novella Badlands and the series of micro-fictions that includes “Flight” was that I understood that world too well – the world of cancer and its treatment and dying and death – having experienced both my friend’s death from cancer as well as my husband’s struggle with Hodgkin’s disease. It’s a common problem that all writers face in any form, but especially in the short forms – thinking things are on the page that really exist only in the writer’s mind. In Badlands, I created the bones of the story, and then kept inserting more and more flesh in the spaces until I arrived at some balance between allowing the white space its power while still giving the reader a sense that the world I created was complete. As short as they are, the micro-fictions were arrived at in exactly the opposite way, by putting everything in at first and then paring away the unnecessary.

Jordan: Given that you are a novelist who has also been published in Inch, how do you believe a work of micro-fiction operates on readers in ways as powerful as novels?

Cyndi: Technically, Badlands is a novella – a short novel. I’m hoping to “graduate” to the novel with my next book. In any case, I’m drawn to forms that use poetic compression to create their worlds. I don’t spend a lot of time leading readers by the hand, for example, by describing settings or characters if those descriptions don’t serve the larger intentions of the story, or by moving characters around the room, so to speak. That drives some readers crazy. Yet people who have read my work tell me its strength is in the images. I think what they’re responding to is that I rely on a series of images – visual, emotional – to convey story. I think writers who work this way can create worlds as powerful as those of longer-winded short story writers and novelists in much less space. The images are like a short hand for a larger world.

Jordan: On writing short stories, Chekhov claimed that the writing should sigh when the reader sobs, meaning that the narrative voice should remain somewhat emotionally distant in order to have an impact on the reader. Though “Flight” resists what could easily be melodrama, do you ever find yourself getting too emotionally involved in your characters while writing? If so, how do you combat this, and back away from these emotions?

Cyndi: I love Richard Hugo’s assertion in The Triggering Town that he’s not much interested in writing that doesn’t risk sentimentality. But I do think it’s important to control writing with strong emotional content so that the writer is not simply manipulating the reader’s emotional response. I can give you an example. There’s a scene in Badlands in which the husband and kids are forced to give the dying wife/mother a morphine injection that she’s resisting. The scene could have easily fallen into melodrama, especially if I had followed my tendency to portray the drama lyrically. Instead, I stripped every word that had any emotional content – it’s pretty much a he-did-this and she-did-that kind of scene. I think the scene serves as a tonal counterpoint to some of the less emotional scenes that are more lyrically written. Nevertheless, the injection scene provokes the strongest emotional reaction of the novella, not only in my readers, but also in me. It was a lesson for me to finally accomplish that.

Cynthia’s story “Flight” appears in Inch #4. We’re almost sold out; get your copy before they’re gone at http://inch.bullcitypress.com/.