Yesterday I brought you an interview with Kathy Fish, one half of the writing duo which recently released the knockout flash fiction collection Rift. Today, I give you part two: my conversation with Robert Vaughan. Here we're talking poetic tendencies, structure as a vessel and what's Not on the page. In other words, a craft-heavy interview: my favorite kind. Enjoy!
Steph Post: Rift contains stories by both yourself and author Kathy Fish. The stories alternate, but are not author-attributed throughout the text. Would you consider Rift to be more of a collaboration or a dual-collection?
The stylistic choices you reference, such as stories alternating, and the lack of author-attribution on each story page, were collaborative choices made by Kathy and me, as well as our publisher, Bud Smith at Unknown Press. The individual stories were all either Kathy’s or my own. In other words, we didn’t co-author stories, but we did place careful editing on each other’s work. I think I’d describe this experience as a collaboration encompassed in a dual-collection.
SP: More so in your work than in Kathy's, I felt the poetry genre creeping forth. Pieces such as "If You Have to Have an Isim" and "Keep It Curt" definitely read more like poetry than prose to me. Genre is always a tricky issue and something I am always curious about. Is there much of a stark line between flash fiction and poetry? Can the genres be interlinked or interchangeable?
RV: I think flash fiction and prose poetry are unlikely sisters. These comparisons have been flushed fully in the fantastic Rose Metal Press Guides (both genres). I love to blur the boundaries of any genre, color way outside the lines, and in first drafts barely consider what it might be. I do think, therefore, it’s possible to link or exchange one for the other. Certainly there are more current fiction writers that “borrow” from the world of poetry (techniques) than ever before. And organically I have a deep affinity with hybrid writing, somewhere among the shadows, bridging worlds, tossing out rules.
SP: In your story "The Rooms We Rented," your emphasis on experimenting with structure is clearly evident. In this case, you break the story up by place and perspective, though in other cases you create fragmented structure in other ways. Does the structure of a piece ever overshadow its story? Can the structure determine or even be the story?
RV: These are profound, deep questions! I love that you mentioned experimentation, a device I yearn to employ (with nods to mentors like Gertrude Stein, Virginia Woolf, Tomas Transtromer, etc.) I think of structure as the best container in which a story, or words, can come forth, and be held. In this way it informs the reader, and in some cases, it might be more of the story than I am aware. Often this is more addressed in re-writes and edits than a first draft.
SP: I've always found flash fiction a delight to teach. For students, its size is manageable and therefor gives them the time and space to close read and analyze. It also does a great job of not scaring student-readers away (which in high school seems to be most of the battle). In your experience, is flash fiction more accessible to readers than, say, a traditional length short story?
RV: For the reasons you mention, I also love to use flash fiction as teaching tools and reading examples. I think more traditional short story form has the same potential (e.g., stories like James Joyce’s “The Dead” or Janet Frame’s “The Lagoon”). One of the driving forces of flash fiction is that delicate use of ‘white space,’ or what is left off the page. When used effectively, this tool gives a reader of any age more permission, use of their imagination, and hopefully a connection to the story.
SP: Rift is broken up into sections titled "Fault," "Tremor," "Breach" and "Cataclysm" which gives meaning to the title of the collection. Where did the geology motif come from? Was this something you and Kathy came up with together?
RV: The title, Rift, came to us early in the writing stages. Once Kathy and I exchanged our first manuscripts in Denver (July, 2015) we chatted about the possibility of sections. Originally, we toyed with four seasons, and keeping in mind the RIFT title, a word from nature or how a season might be indicated by that. Then we noticed that our pieces had different pacing, or tempo, and how there was an overall progression threaded through- so later on (September?) we used the Thesaurus and went to work! As a final touch, Kathy then had the terrific idea (she referenced Shipping News by Annie Proulx in which each chapter had a different knot pictured and the definition of each knot) to include the actual definitions of our four section’s (Fault, Tremor, Breach and Cataclysm) title page.
SP: And finally, as always, I'm looking for recommendations and to pass on the love. So... who and what should I be reading right now?
RV: I’m currently reading Why This World: A Biography of Clarice Lispector by Benjamin Moser. Just finished People Like You by Margaret Malone (highly recommended short stories). Enjoyed The Best Small Fictions 2015 by Tara Masih and Robert Owen Butler (editors). I’m a member of Goodreads, and always try to review every book I read. Also, I’ll post a year-end reading list at my blog: www.robert-vaughan.com, which I’ve done since 2009. Thanks for the very deep questions, and your lovely support of RIFT, and indie authors, Stephanie!
Thank you, Robert! And now, dear readers, go out and get your copy of Rift today. As always: read, review, recommend, repeat.....