We asked the fiction, flash fiction, and nonfiction authors from our latest issue what questions they would want to ask their fellow Volume 6 contributors. A few then answered those questions, delving into their craft, their inspirations, and their approach to creating. Read on to learn more about fiction and flash fiction writers James Gianetti, author of "Transformer," Rebecca Kilroy, author of "The Affliction," Bea Karol, author of "Breaking and Exiting," and Maxim Matusevich, author of "Red Dress." And make sure to check out their work in Vol 6: Fatal Flaw!
Sara Streeter: What music inspires your art/writing?
James Gianetti: I’m a big indie rock person. The Killers, Lord Huron, The National, Hozier. I’m typically drawn to music and lyrics that tell a story. Music is actually the first thing I seek out during creative ruts. The pace and propulsion resonates with me and I try to emulate that in my writing as best I can. I do try and listen to certain songs that have a tone that reflect what kind of story I am writing. It gets the creative juices flowing.
SS: What's your favorite line or detail from your own Fatal Flaw piece?
JG: I don’t know if there is one in particular but my favorite detail of sorts would be the cadence and nature of the structure. The story titled “Transformer” is strictly dialogue between a father and their young child as they discuss the loss of a family member due to suicide. At only five hundred words there is a lot to digest and I want readers to have different perceptions and to scrutinize it based on the nuances of the conversation. I also wanted the dialogue to not just speak for itself but also speak for the tone and fill the voids of scene descriptions. I didn’t want to flood or disrupt the back and forth with setting details or interior monologues because it wouldn’t feel authentic to the story. That is where I found so much enjoyment in writing flash fiction for the first time. The genre alone allows me to challenge and push myself to try new forms and styles I haven’t considered before.
SS: Who would you love to do an artistic collaboration with?
JG: I have been following a lot of talented writers over the years. I am reading Bud Smith’s Teenager right now and loving it and anything he puts out. I have been drawing a lot of inspiration from Jason Reynolds’ “Long Way Down'' in my second novel. But who wouldn’t want to do cool shit with Aaron Burch? I’ll say Bud Smith. Shortlist Aaron Burch, Jason Reynolds and Hanif Abdurraqib.
SS: What’s on your desk or workspace?
JG: I teach 8th grade so I need to make sure my desk isn’t boring. I have a full size lego of the Millennium Falcon that a couple of students bought and made for me on my birthday a few years ago. My laptop, a stapler that works when it feels like it, a small clay vase I keep my pens and pencils in that has a Japanese insignia on it that means “happiness”. I have a Han Solo Funko Pop (you’re getting the picture by now that I love Star Wars) a couple of softballs with all my player’s signatures on it, a couple of framed photos with me and my brothers, others with former students, my wayfarers, and a bunch of stunning visual art my students drew for me pinned to the board next to my desk.
SS: Name a piece of art/writing that you love from any issue of Fatal Flaw and why you love it.
JG: “Outlaw Shit” by Lorette C. Luzajic struck a chord with me. I love any writing that abandons the typical style but can also stick the landing and be engaging. That story was raw and visceral with lines like “someone else’s garbage always seems more romantic when you are only eleven” and “I was safer with outlaws than I was my own mother. Their kind of cruelty was visceral and predictable. They might even defend you. You knew where you stood.” Lines like that appeal to me because I feel that tone is within the wheelhouse of my own voice and style but also humbles me because it makes me want to step up my game. Love that story.
SS: What's the hardest thing about the creative process for you?
JG: Finding a story that is worth telling and that is meaningful. I always tell myself to never start writing unless it is a story you want to tell. Don’t write a story just for the sake of writing one and hoping lighting strikes along the way. I tend to abandon the whole “write what you know” mantra because I do like taking a couple of steps out of my comfort zone. I love taking risks and that isn’t possible if I find myself writing the same kind of stories again and again. The first thing I ever got published was my first novel which is a mystery/thriller so my instincts whenever starting anything new after that was it needed to be something along those lines. But like I said before, with writing flash fiction or any fiction in shorter form, it allows me to take risks and perhaps be more vulnerable. I am seeing that when writing beyond what I know, that is when I am at my best.
Bea Karol: What did you have for breakfast?
Rebecca Kilroy: A chocolate croissant and a chai latte. I love going to my local cafe and sitting at a table to people watch. It makes me feel more writerly than anything else does (including actually writing).
BK: Where do you write? And do you share that space with any more-than-human living things?
RK: My main writing space at the moment is my desk. It sits in the corner of my bedroom and overlooks a window. Next to it is a spider plant named Charlotte who thrives despite my many failings as a plant parent. I'm better with mammals. Occasionally a Golden Retriever named Darcy wanders in to lie next to my chair.
BK: As writers, do we have responsibilities? If so, to what or whom?
RK: I've been thinking a lot lately about the responsibilities of a writing life. I don't like to say that art owes anything to anyone because your art can just be for you. It doesn't need labels or, even worse, expectations, getting in its way. But the main responsibility I've given myself as a writer is to write. Anyone who has a passion owes it to themselves to nurture it. I also feel responsible for writing with courage. Putting the hard things into words is, well, hard. But as a reader nothing makes me feel more complete than seeing someone else describe a feeling I thought only I'd felt. I want to be able to do that for somebody else.
BK: Which is the one story or poem you wish you’d written?
RK: I wish I'd written "The Monster Calls" by Patrick Ness. It's exactly the kind of weird I aspire to be. It also has an ending that emotionally guts me everytime. Endings are one of my biggest challenges, but I want to reach for the ones that leave you breathless.
BK: How would you react if you found a bear in your kitchen?
RK: Well, first I'd check to make sure it's my kitchen and not the bear's. I've read "Goldilocks" enough to know that trespassing humans are one of the top threats to bear-kind. Assuming that this is actually my kitchen, I would probably run and let the bear have it anyway. I don't think I could beat a bear in a fight and have no interest in testing that theory. But I would be curious to find out what bears like to cook.
Mia Arias Tsang: Who/what are your largest artistic influences?
Bea Karol: Leonora Carrington has been a preoccupation for me for the last few years because she was prolific in her output—really living her life as art—and shifted seamlessly between media, be that writing, painting, tapestry, sculpture. She also had children, which I found deeply reassuring in helping me to dissolve the art monster / mother binary. The same with Diane di Prima. I was gifted a copy of Loba, which is hard to track down in the UK, and was struck by its contemporary relevance. I hope someone will reissue it, like Silver Press have done with her Revolutionary Letters, which span from the late 1960’s to poems addressing Kurt Cobain’s suicide and President Obama. Renata Adler, Tove Jansson and Nora Lange also deserve mentions for their sparse prose and uncompromising lives.
MAT: What major themes does your art tend to focus on?
BK: If I work too consciously to a concept, it comes at the detriment of my writing, so I tend to write and retrospectively recognise themes or preoccupations. Transgression and transformation have been recurring themes in my poetry and stories, often using a relationship with nature as a way to break through boundaries. A wild animal in a kitchen, a retelling of the myth of Daphne and Apollo, a study of a 2x2ft piece of turf—all feature a breakdown of social expectations, a rebellion or change.
MAT: Do you have any rituals that you practice before/during/after creating?
BK: I do! Because my writing time is plagued by interruptions and strange hours, I pull a tarot card each time I sit down for a day, half-day or hour’s writing. Tarot is a framework that helps me tap into how I’m feeling and approach my work from different angles. I use a beautiful set of major arcana designed by Leonora Carrington that Fulgar Press republished recently. Today I pulled the Hierophant, upright, so I’m thinking about fundamental principles and where I converge or depart from those—which feels appropriate for this exercise!
MAT: Where are you from and how, if at all, does that influence your art?
BK: Before the pandemic I would have said that my upbringing on England’s south coast had minimal influence on my writing. Three months of lockdown in the countryside of my childhood gave me a renewed appreciation of the New Forest and the roots I have there. What seems like the soft underbelly of the south with its mild climate, free-roaming ponies and purple heather also hides bronze-age burial sites, a royal murder mystery and WW2 prisoner of war camps. Gorse-burning is the traditional method of land renewal, turning the land hot and charred with skeletal black branches, before it springs back to life in vibrant abundance. I was struck by the interplay between the harsh/soft, destruction/renewal, freedom/captivity and all of that creeps into my writing.
MAT: What gives you hope?
BK: Poetry. Two poems have kept me going through the pandemic and the almost daily despair I feel at the world right now. The first is Song for Baby-O, Unborn by Diane di Prima, which reminds me that there is more good than bad, more to love than to despise. I’ve used it as the jumping off point for a collection of poems for my daughter, whose name begins with O.
The second, How Dark the Beginning by Maggie Smith reminds me that there can be peace and comfort in darkness and dark times. I had always been afraid of the dark but I was forced to confront this while roaming the early hours in what Rachel Cusk calls “the land of milk and shadows” with a newborn. I now find a wholesome richness in darkness, like secrets waiting to reveal themselves.
Rebecca Kilroy: Where and when do you most like to create?
Maxim Matusevich: I don’t really have a particular setting that I find most conducive to writing. Generally, I like to write in cafes and other such public spaces, because I’m pretty good at blocking everything out when I focus on a task at hand. I’ve noticed that I’m less distracted when there are other people around, it’s like their presence brackets my own solitude… When I’m all by myself I keep chasing all sort of minor and unnecessary chores, which, of course, is a typical procrastination technique. Recently we bought a small country home, surrounded by the woods and hills of northeastern Pennsylvania. It’s really a perfect setting for writing, even idyllic, but I’m still getting used to this new environment.
RK: How do you coax ideas out when you're feeling creatively blocked?
MM: I simply don’t write unless I feel like writing. At least not creatively. Being an academic I always have something else to do, especially the tasks that do not allow for endless procrastination. But I’ve also noticed that no matter how I feel once I’ve started writing things begin to happen, words emerge out of the primordial fog. Mostly English words, sometimes Russian words.
RK: Do you see a lot of yourself in your work?
MM: Yes, to a point. But each time I start writing something that I imagine to be autobiographical, the story and its main character quickly assume a life of their own. Once the story or a novella has been finished quite often it appears to me as a living and breathing creation, completely separate from me. Like many of us (I believe) I have a tendency to imbue some characters with what I perceive to be my personal qualities or quirks, but sooner or later the character in question stops being me, it becomes completely autonomous.
RK: What would you say is your greatest flaw?
MM: Sometimes I find it difficult to believe in the sincerity of other people’s feelings. I’m not distrustful of others in my daily interactions, not at all; actually, it’s sort of the other way around. But it’s always an effort for me to accept other people’s expressed emotions as genuine. This may be the legacy of having grown up in a society (Soviet Union) that was both hyper emotional, but also based to some extent on fake sentiments and mimicry.
RK: What does a great day of creativity feel like for you?
MM: Such days are very rare but they feel great, because they make me less uncertain about the accident of my presence in this world. I just feel content and less anxious. But what does it really take? I guess 2-3 well written pages would do the trick.
RK: Is there a theme you find yourself coming back to time and again?
MM: Yes, I have several such themes, but one question that sort of haunts me is this: Does our past really define us? Are we the hostages of our past passions, traumas, and travails? In this regard, I’m drawn to the life experiences of the so-called “last Soviet generation,” to which, of course, I belong. We were born into a society that was supposed to “last forever,” but it promptly collapsed just as we were coming of age. Instead of predictable life paths we were served new life itineraries, which delivered us to strange new landscapes, introduced us to new languages and cultures. In some ways, the experience of immigration is always traumatic, even when things work out most wonderfully. It’s always an experience of disruption and alienation, where nothing seems real or genuine. Well, at least that’s how I have felt all these years. I harbor no regrets and ask for no sympathy, because I’ve been very fortunate. But it's a condition that interests me. So… nostalgia?
James Gianetti is a writer from New Jersey. His short fiction and work have been published or is forthcoming in Hearth & Coffin, Mayberry Review, Collective Unrest, Hobart, and Cold Creek Review. His debut novel, The Town of Jasper was released in 2017. He received an Editor’s Choice Emblem for his short fiction from Hearth & Coffin Literary Journal. Beyond writing, James teaches middle school special education in New Jersey. You can find him on twitter @Jamesgianetti or at http://www.jamesgianetti.com/.
Rebecca Kilroy is a novelist, short story writer and writing teacher based in Western Massachusetts. She writes historical fiction, fantasy and magical realism. Her work focuses on themes of family, mental health and coming of age. She has been published in "The Copperfield Review Quarterly," "Laurel Moon", "Capulet Magazine", and "The Mount Holyoke Review" where she currently serves as editor-in-chief. When not writing, she enjoys wandering used bookstores and reading Jane Austen. She's currently at work on a fantasy novel.
Bea Karol finally did her MA Creative Writing last year at the age of 36. She balances writing, working and (new) motherhood in Sheffield, England. Her preoccupations are the collective imagination, orchards and what it means to live in the anthropocene.
Maxim Matusevich has published extensively as a historian, but in the last few years has also begun to write fiction – mostly in English, but occasionally in his native Russian. His short stories, essays, and a couple of novellas appeared in the Kenyon Review, New England Review, the Bare Life Review, Transitions, San Antonio Review, MumberMag, Anti-Heroin-Chic, BigCityLit, the Wild Word, Foreign Literary, ReLevant, East-West Literary Forum, WordCity Literary Journal, and a number of other publications.
Sara Streeter (Hea Sook Han) is a transracially adopted Korean-American who was relinquished at birth and adopted at four months old. By writing about the complicated truths wrapped up in adoption, she hopes to amplify the adoptee narrative and bring to light the unique challenges adoptees face. Sara writes creative nonfiction and is working on a novel. She is thrilled to announce “Erased” is her first piece published in a literary magazine.
Mia Arias Tsang (she/her) is a writer and recent graduate of Yale University, where she studied molecular biology and creative writing. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Fatal Flaw Magazine, Bullshit Lit, Fifth Wheel Press, the Yale Daily News Magazine, and Broad Recognition, Yale’s intersectional feminist magazine. She lives in New York City with her cat, Peanut. Find her on Instagram @tami3000 and Twitter @cool4asecond.
Learn more about visual artists GJ Gillespie, Caitlin Gill, and Rachel Coyne. And make sure to check out their work in Vol. 6: Fatal Flaw!