Author Kathy FishKathy Fish’s short fiction has appeared in Indiana Review, The Denver Quarterly, New South, Quick Fiction, Guernica, Slice and elsewhere. She was the guest editor of Dzanc Books’ Best of the Web 2010. She is the author of three collections of short fiction: a chapbook of flash fiction in the chapbook collective, 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 now available from The Lit Pub!!
IMBO:Kathy, welcome. I had no idea you'd lived in Australia for five years. Where and why? And wow! Australia.
FISH: Yes! We actually lived in Australia twice. I accompanied my husband with our two very small children (3 yrs. and 1 1/2 yrs.) when he was working on a contract in Canberra. This was 1990. We were supposed to be there six weeks and it ended up being a year.
Always wanted to go back, so in 1995, my husband took a job in Sydney and off we went. We lived outside of Sydney for five years.
IMBO: I love Sydney. I love The Rocks and all the harbors. What do you love about Sydney? Describe your home there for us. And would you want to go back now?
FISH:I love Sydney too. A lot of people compare it to San Francisco and I think that's apt. It feels youthful, alive. I loved the laid back feel of the whole country. We actually lived out in the 'burbs, in the Northern Beaches area, in three separate houses over our five years there. My favorite house was a tiny, one level brick home with a wide verandah that opened into a walled courtyard. The place was overrun with flowers and trees. I'd painted the whole interior of the house for a break on the rent. At that time I had a toddler and was pregnant and I have this strong memory of standing on a folding chair painting, a summer breeze coming through the open windows, my son playing nearby and the sound of a kookaburra, that maniacal laughter. More exciting things happened while we lived in Australia but for some reason that moment stays with me.
I'd go back for a visit in a heartbeat.
IMBO: Tell us about your first encounter with literature. Is it even possible to remember something like this?
Fish: I actually associate Australia with my first encounter with literature, though that's not exactly true. Like everyone, I read the usual books and authors for high school and college English classes. I read the bestsellers. And I always enjoyed writing, even as a child. But it was in Australia that I took my first creative writing workshop and it was in Australia that I first read the Best American Short Stories. That's what fueled my excitement for literary short fiction and made me really want to pursue writing.
IMBO: Tell us more about that Aussie creative writing workshop. How fortunate you were to live in a country where English is the official language!
Fish: The creative writing workshop was held above a health food store in Bondi. By this time, I had four children, two school-aged kids, a toddler and an infant, and I was going slightly crazy. I adore my kids, but I needed a break, some mental challenge, some fun. That class was an absolute blast. All the other people in the class were much younger and hipper than I was. It would be a few years before I actually even considered writing seriously, sending work out, etc.
IMBO: Can you tell us something valuable you learned from this class and these people?
FISH:One rule of the class was that we could only give positive feedback for each other's stories. No critique. I found that set-up absolutely perfect for beginning writers. You need all the high fives you can get to keep at it, to get excited. And I'm so glad it was this particular group of people that I started writing with because it was such a youthful mix and I was exposed to really quirky, fresh, original stuff. I learned that writing could be a blast and it was.
IMBO: Very cool. And I think I’ve just broken the 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not covet thy writing compadre’s creative writing workshop.” Let's turn to the place where you grew up. How do you see this place in terms of your writing?
FISH: I grew up in the Midwest, in Iowa, in a city called Waterloo. It was a thriving place when I was growing up. There is a John Deere tractor plant there which at that time anyway was the largest tractor factory in the world. My dad worked there and some of my brothers, too, when they got older. A river divides the city and there are all these bridges spanning it. It was at that time a very racially divided city, black people lived on one side of the river and white people on the other, and there was some racial strife in the 60s there. It was also a very Catholic city, with several Catholic parishes and each had its own school. So I was very much a product of this environment, a working class, Catholic girl from a large family. I draw on that experience so much in my writing. I guess, like most people, I didn't realize there was anything particularly unique about where I grew up until I got older and moved away. I see now there is a feeling and a flavor to the Midwest that is unlike any other place and yeah, it's in me, in my writing, though I've now lived half my life in other places. I feel compelled to write about it, often.
I didn't realize there was anything particularly unique about where I grew up until I got older and moved away.___________________
IMBO: And I think this feeling and flavor of the Midwest comes through in your collection Together We Can Bury It (Read my review HERE). It is a fantastic gathering of characters. What is your favorite story from this collection? Can you tell us a bit about when and why you wrote it?
FISH:Thank you, Chris! I've never been asked that question and it's a hard one to answer, but I'll say that my favorite is "The Hollow" because I remember so vividly writing it. Few stories have ever come so easily and quickly to me as that one. You know, it was like that holy experience that writers dream about and that rarely happens. I was sitting in the coffee shop at a Barnes & Nobel with my headphones on, just looking around and I saw a woman in "black polyester pants, kitten heels, and a tailored blouse" and this weird, sad story just sprang up around this woman and her two daughters. I've never typed so fast in all my life.
IMBO: I’m so glad you’ve chosen “The Hollow” because it gives me a chance to discuss your work from a few angles. The first: point of view. This story is written in third person plural actually—not your typical POV. The consciousness of the two little girls is never separated, which I think works so well in this troubling story of failed, broken parents . . . and strong, impervious kids.
FISH: I find I often slip into a collective POV when I write about children and siblings. Siblings have a collective consciousness and a culture and language of their own, especially if they are close and if there is some strife they are dealing with together. When I was growing up, I had a strong sense of “we”’ with my seven brothers. Childhood was a collective experience for me, so it comes naturally to write about “we” and “they.” Also, I just like the way it sounds. It is a challenging POV to write fiction from however. It gets blurry. It’s one of those things you can do fictionally that is very limiting and yet liberating at the same time.
IMBO: The first third-person plural narrator I remember reading was in Jeffrey Eugenides' The Virgin Suicides. Children again: the neighborhood boys. You have a point there, and there's probably an essay here that needs to be written. The second aspect of this story I’d like to discuss is the role of the father. It’s as if his entrance into the story provides an ah-hah moment, as if the reader says, “Ahhh, yes, there’d be a broken father too, wouldn’t there?” And the simple line from the security guard: “You’ve been told.” This tells the reader so much. (I realize, dear IMBO reader, that you do not have this story in front of you. I hope you'll have this story in front of you soon--as soon as Together We Can Bury It is rereleased.)
FISH: I like that it felt that way for you as a reader, Chris. I did intentionally bring in the father late to the story to add another layer. Oh I always think of it as a Polaroid developing, the picture slowly becoming clearer. And I didn’t want a big chunk of exposition there, just a few insinuating details.
IMBO: The details say it all. And the description of character of course, which brings me to my third point: your kick-ass similes. You say this story gushed from the sight of a woman in black polyester pants, kitten heels, and a tailored blouse. Did the simile “like the thorax of an ant” come immediately as well? Or was this added later? Your similes challenge me to be a better writer.
FISH: Oh thank you! I will say that any simile, in any story of mine, just came to me in the act of writing. I’ve never said to myself what would be a good simile I can put in here? And then sat and tried to think one up because I’m lousy at that. So yeah, that simile you point out just happened as I was typing and I like it too. In revision, I never add similes. More often than not, I end up taking a few out because similes can start to compete with the reader’s attention.
What’s interesting about similes is you’re getting a taste of the writer’s subconscious associations (at least I’m thinking for ones that arise organically from the writing and are not conjured up and labored over). Maybe that’s what makes them challenging at times.
IMBO: I’m so glad they happen naturally. They sound natural. OK, so I always ask my interviewees to recommend another expat writer, tell us a bit about this person and why we should read him/her.
FISH: Happily! Avital Gad-Cykman is a writer I’ve known for many years. She was born and raised in Israel, then moved to Brazil in her late twenties and has lived and worked and raised her children there. Her writing is incredible; magical and deep and gorgeous. It is easy to find her work by googling her name, but I’ll point out a couple here: “Changing Winds” which appeared in a journal called Pig Iron Malt and “The Future of Color” which appeared in Salon. I hope she publishes a collection of her stories someday. That would be a gift.
IMBO: Beautiful, challenging prose! Thank you, Kathy, and thank you so much for chatting with me. It’s always a pleasure.
FISH: Thanks, Chris. I’ve really enjoyed talking with you!
I must be off,
To continue with I Must Be Off! A-Z, go to Y is for Yalta.
Kathy Fish’s short fiction has appeared in Indiana Review, The Denver Quarterly, New South, Quick Fiction, Guernica, Slice and elsewhere. She was the guest editor of Dzanc Books’ “Best of the Web 2010.” She is the author of three collections of short fiction: a chapbook of flash fiction in the chapbook collective, “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
Christopher Allen is the author of Conversations with S. Teri O'Type (a Satire), available from Amazon Anything.