Vol. 8: Embodiment fiction and flash writers Dia VanGunten, A. Valliard, Mir Arif, Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou, and Christopher Adams

A Creative Conversation with the Volume 8 Fiction Writers

By Abby Mills | January 19, 2023

We sat down with some of the Fiction and Flash Fiction writers featured in our most recent issue to talk with them about their writing inspiration, how they feel their work "embodied" our theme, and what their creative resolutions are for 2023. Read on to learn more about Dia VanGunten, author of "Heart of December", A. Valliard, author of "Requiem with Echinoderms", Mir Arif, author of "Mahutland", Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou, author of "Arethusa Melts", and Christopher Adams, author of "Confessional". And be sure to check out their work in Vol 8: Embodiment!

What are the origins of your work? How did it come to exist in its final form?

Dia VanGunten: “Heart of December” is brand new, written shortly before submission, but it’s part of Pink Zombie Rose, a series of graphic novels. Two decades of obsession & seclusion led to a bizarre project that includes this story.

A. Valliard: “Requiem with Echinoderms” extruded itself during the first year of the plague, when everything appeared to be devolving into a bog of primordial horror. Australia was on fire, over a billion animals perished, the fossil and mineral dealers I worked for collapsed (metaphorically) in a plume of bushfire smoke and retail apathy. Then the virus came swaggering along. And let’s not forget the rise of fascism all over the globe. Like the narrator, I’m something of a cloistered classicist, but the bludgeon of daily events finally cracked through my little terrarium, and reality filtered in. I’ve become more of a humanist. Or more human? Either. Anyroad, I had no particular notion what to do with this existentially grim bit of business until I found Fatal Flaw. I had a bookshop once, called Tragically Flawed, so I was drawn to this shared interest in hamartia. Abby expertly struck some knobbly sentences off, and the horrifying thing was thrust upon the public. 

Mir Arif: My story “Mahutland” came from a strange dream I had a few years ago. In my dream I saw rat-like creatures trying to stand up on their hind legs and that caused reactions among themselves. Some of them wanted to use four legs while others debated the benefits of two front legs (or hands) that were now free. It was an evolutionary moment in their society. So I took this idea and started writing this story from my dream. However, in the course of writing I found other ideas that I also combined with my dream. These new ideas came from my reading of existential philosophy. I also noticed the failure of revolution, the hypocrisy of leadership in my country. Perhaps these elements came naturally into my story because of my surroundings in Bangladesh where I was born and lived until 2019. Failed leadership is something that I have seen growing up and there is no easy solution to this problem. The idea of a revolutionary leader in the story, which didn’t happen in my dream but derived from my surroundings, was interesting to me. Like many leaders, Master Praavu promised new things in society, but deep down he didn’t fully believe in his own philosophy. I realized that leadership, organizing people, revolution — these can be a form of self-entertainment for some people. They amuse themselves by being at the center of things, no other goals are necessary for them.

Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou: I'm mixed Greek Cypriot and English, so Greek mythology has been a constant companion to me all these years. Indeed, myths and stories are modes through which we all make sense of our differences; those disparate parts of ourselves that don't necessarily add up. I've always loved the idea of a woman turning into a river and have illustrated the myth of Arethusa (though, this time, as told in Ovid's Metamorphoses not in the plays, histories or Greek "libraries") in the past, paying especial attention to the process of dissolution in pen and ink. The heatwave in London last summer brought the myth back to me in words. That, and my interest in queer spaces (though the lidos I've been to in my teens have always been dominated by heterosexuality and heteronormative ways of being, as recounted in my flash fiction) made me think about rewriting the story. I cut out the deus ex machina aspects to the tale and changed the main characters into teens, with Arethusa being an outsider. I wrote it in one sitting, in an hour or so, and felt like Arethusa had very quickly found her way to the water again, though this time on her own terms.

Christopher Adams: Most of my creative work has been in playwriting and screenwriting. But recently I’ve wanted to experiment more with language and image — and flash fiction / short stories have provided a space for that. The idea for ‘Confessional’ has been in my mind for a while, and, having recently finished my PhD thesis, I found I suddenly had the space and inspiration to write it.

How do you see your work speaking to the theme of embodiment?

AV: Less embodiment than disembodiment! Although the narrator is forced to reckon with their own upsetting flesh and humanity, in both the best and worst sense.

MA: My protagonist Lili deals with constraints of her body. She has existential questions about her body and desires to transcend her bodily boundaries, although she eventually learns to accept who she is. That slow transformation within her, through conflict, self-loathing, and acceptance, is something that I explored through my writing. I think all these ideas are connected to the issue’s theme.

HHG: I work on the body in my PhD research, and if there's one thing it's taught me, it's that you can't have embodiment without disembodiment – and that there's no such thing as one body, but multiple bodies. We exist as multiples or in a state of multiplicity all the time. So with Arethusa, I wanted her disembodiment – which becomes a re-embodiment with a difference – to be a liberating experience. I wanted dissolution – the 'melting' in the title and in the story – paradoxically to be about power, self-discovery, self-assertion and radical euphoria. Various processes of embodiment and disembodiment are happening in tandem 24/7 for us, every day; some overt in terms of appearance and bodily interactions with the world, others more incremental, subtle, myopic and silent. All are collective (we act in and through and on each other), though individually specific and processed. Arethusa's is too.

CA: I’m interested in the sensual world. ‘Confessional’ (for me) is about the tension between engagement with the world as it is and the world we would like it to be.

DVG: The patient has a virus that causes her to feel dead and disembodied. Consequently, she distrusts the bodies of others. What is a body really? Can a familiar face be counterfeit? If the physical is suspect, then feelings are equally iffy. Also, this dissociative experience has a spiritual / geological component as the “patient” becomes aware of the gestalt. The world is her new body.

Reflecting back on 2022, what artistic achievement are you most proud of in the past year?

MA: One artistic achievement in the past year was to bring out a special Witness issue, Saṃsāra, focusing on Asian authors from all over the world. While working for the magazine our fiction editor Areej Quraishi and I selected some wonderful pieces from a large number of submissions. Reading such talented writers was a great joy. Their work uplifted me in many ways during the bleak days of Covid-19 pandemic.

HHG: I could say having more of my creative non-fiction essays, fiction and arts journalism published in different places, but I think it's just been to see my writing develop and grow and be read more by others, and to see me prioritise myself and my writing more (which has not always been the case).

CA: Immediately after writing ‘Confessional’ I wrote a long short story—it stretched me as a writer, and I’m proud of completing it.

DVG: Halfway through 2022, I shocked everyone when I emerged from 20 years of artistic seclusion and started submitting my work. I ended the year with 40 publications, two Pushcart nominations and a brilliant illustrator for the 8 books in the Pink Zombie Rose series. While it’s tempting to return to my bubble where “only the work matters,” I feel fortified by the events of the last 6 months. I’m resolved to stay on path with publication. I have sacrificed a lot – societal respectability of children, marriage, financial security – because art was all that mattered. I now tell myself: “If it matters so much, then it must come into the light.”

AV: I entered a hideous yellow portrait for the Archibald Prize, which was enormous fun to paint, in a mortifying, self-examining sort of way. I’m deeply proud of ‘Requiem’ finding a home among the illumined shards here at Fatal Flaw.

And looking ahead to 2023 - what are your artistic resolutions? What do you hope to work on or accomplish in the new year?

HHG: Just to be bolder with my creativity and my imagination and how I use words. That, and to continue with my creative non-fiction book-length project, some chapters of which I'd like to see published.

CA: To be true to my artistic self. Not to shrink back. To continue to find ways to express my artistic sensibility, whether writing in prose, or for stage and screen. Or some other medium.

DVG: I will continue to write Pink Zombie Rose, juggling the work with my quest to find an audience for the story. Meanwhile, growing these other aspects of my career: CNF and more academic articles, plus the public aspects of social media and self promotion. I’ve also started a culture / arts / fashion mag. So maybe my goal for 2023 is that magical thing called “balance.” Maybe I’ll find an infinite reserve of energy. A few big “wins” will have an energizing effect. A “win” can be so many delicious things so that feels doable.

AV: Publishing The City of Lost Intentions! Or whatever it ends up being called. After a few years writing ghastly little cod-Jacobean allegories by candlelight in a cold-water Parisian garret, like a tit, I ended up traipsing around Europe, interviewing painters, actors, musicians, writers, and general ink fiddlers about their fears and foibles regarding their art. I transmogrified their answers into a phantasmagorical underworld city populated by surrealist creatures and caricatures. A sort of tragicomical Bestiary of Waylaid Artists. There are almost two-hundred of the devils, ranged over ten levels of artistic betrayal. I’m in there at least seven times. 

I’ve found people have a macabre but gleeful compulsion to find out which area of hell they’re destined for if they don’t obey the whims of their heart, so I might add a helpful questionnaire.

MA: My artistic resolution for 2023 is to finish my novel and short story collection. I hope to finish both projects earlier this year and find a publisher. Fingers crossed!

What do you hope people take away from your work?

CA: A sense of play and wonder.

DVG: Hope. Humanity. A sense of connection, even when the subject is alienation and existential angst. I try to infuse dark themes with beauty & awe. I hope I succeed in that aim.

AV: From ‘Requiem with Echinoderms,’ a lively sense of their own transience, the vitalness of emotional connection, and the importance of dusting their mineral cabinet. From everything else, that they must make peace with their “Vision”, if you’ll forgive such a hoary old concept. If you’re an artist of any ilk, and privileged enough to have time and freedom, and you have one of these harrowing bastards in your heart, it will plague you unto death if you don’t manifest it in some fashion. Either through art or action. It needs to see itself represented. Otherwise, it will sabotage your delightful affairs.

MA: I hope people find my story interesting. Interesting in the sense of plot, character development, and language. I think good writing inspires and urges us to tell our own stories. I have read many stories whose characters have nothing in common with me, but often I find something good in the story, sometimes it’s language, sometimes it’s the voice of the narrator. These things keep me hooked into the story. Good writing has an evocative power. It brings forth something that we haven’t thought before. If the writing is good, it can bring back strong memories and feelings, even for the writer who reads their own story. I look for elements of evocation while reading a story and I will feel mission accomplished if readers find my story evocative enough.

HHG: Joy – and without putting too much faith in my abilities, I hope it inspires them to see the life and manifold possibilities in words and language. Words make and break worlds every day.

Beyond this issue, how else can Fatal Flaw readers find and support you as an artist?

DVG: At this time, Pink Zombie Rose can be read at Apple In The Dark, Caustic Frolic, Fatal Flaw, Funemployment Press, Open Sewers, NoNothing Magazine, 100 Subtexts, Viridian Door’s X. Many of these stories are illustrated by comic artist Beppi. For more, see IG @pinkzombierose, or www.pinkzombierose.com.

Non-fiction can be found in Blue Bob Anthology, Caustic Frolic, Cream Scene Carnival, Cringe, Deadbeat Poets, Dreams In Hiding, In The Mood Magazine, Kinda Weird Mag, Polyester, Run Amok Books, Soft Star and Solstice Lit. 

I am co-editor of (and frequent contributor to) online culture mag, Cream Scene Carnival

AV: By following my slothfully updated Twitter (or even more threadbare Instagram) page, and hopefully buying The City of Lost Intentions when it emerges. I’m gearing up to the whole wretched business of promotion. There will be a fancy webpage, and so forth, but in the mean, any updates will trickle down through the bird app.

MA: By reading my stories and sharing your thoughts with me. Find me @mirarif_

HHG: I'm not sure, but I guess to continue to read/see the work of emerging writers and artists, of independent presses and initiatives – so much brilliant, groundbreaking work is coming from small organisations, publishers and lesser-known writers. Seek them out whenever you can – you won't be disappointed!

CA: I list some of my stage work on my website (http://www.Christopher-Adams.net). I’m always interested in collaboration—do be in touch. I’m particularly interested in scripting a graphic novel.

About the author

Dia VanGunten explores overlaps between genres, between poetry & prose, between real & magical. This piece is part of Pink Zombie Rose which can be read at Open Sewers, NoNothing Magazine, 100 Subtexts, Viridian Door’s X, Apple In the Dark. VanGunten’s CNF can be found in Polyestor, Outlander, Cringe, Kinda Weird Magazine, Solstice Lit, Run Amok Books, Deadbeat Poets and Soft Star. For more, see IG @pinkzombierose, or www.pinkzombierose.com

A.Valliard (they/them) is an allegorist, ink scribbler, and occasional ham actor, currently working on "The City of Lost Intentions", a tragicomical underworld guidebook containing over two hundred phantasmagorical creatures based on the fears and foibles of artists.They can be found procrastinating on twitter at @AValliard or at https://valliard.com

Mir Arif is a writer from Bangladesh. He is a part-time instructor at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where he also completed his M.F.A. in Creative Writing. His fiction has appeared in Singapore Unbound, Nether Quarterly, Himal Southasian, and elsewhere. Currently, he is finishing his first novel.

Hannah Hutchings-Georgiou is a writer, the founding editor-in-chief of Lucy Writers, and is currently studying for a PhD in English Literature at UCL. She regularly writes on visual art, dance and literature for magazines such as The London Magazine, The Arts Desk, The White Review, Plinth UK, Burlington Contemporary, review 31, Club des Femmes, The Asymptote Journal, and many others. Read her work https://linktr.ee/hhgsparkles Follow her on Twitter @hhgsparkles and Instagram @hannahhg25

Christopher Adams (he/him) is a British-American playwright and screenwriter. His recent productions include Tumulus (Soho Theatre) and Antigone (UK tour). He is currently completing a PhD in queer publishing history at the Institute of English Studies, University of London. You can find him on Instagram: @queer_books

up next...

An Interview with Volume 8 Cover Artist Eleanor Claire

Our Visual Art Editor Mollye Miller Shehadeh sat down with Eleanor Claire, the artist behind the cover of our most recent issue, to talk with her about the inspiration behind the cover image, their origin as an illustrator, and the motivation behind the many body parts present in the piece. You can explore Eleanor's full series "Body Horror" in Vol 8: Embodiment, available now!