“The closer you are to what you want, the more you are aware how not having it stabs your space. The space of ambiguities is worse still, amorphous, hovering between wanting and taking.”
This is a collection not to be missed. Each story is a talisman for a reproduction of a life. There is not one tale that doesn’t ring true. These stories actually bring memories to the forefront that have been buried deep in the soil of the mind, marked ‘please forget or at least deny’. Fowler is a master at digging into those trenches and watering what others would much rather let dry out. She plants her seeds in them and out come damn forests!
“I am so much water, so much steam. I am a dream diffused into a nightmare. Afterward, when he stands across the room from me, when he strides away, I can pinch his distance between my thumb and index finger. He is that small. I am that small for him too, at similar distances.”
Get a copy of “People With Holes,” if you don’t already have one.
Heather Fowler interview with Meg Tuite
I LOVE this collection. Please tell us something of the inspiration for “People With Holes”.
HF: I fell in love again, with another unattainable muse. It was not so much an effort at writing a new collection as documenting a chronology of the various impulses that recognizing such a happenstance creates. I don’t recommend trying this at home. There is befuddlement, great joy, deception, betrayal, whimsy, a terribly evocative fall-out, and the occasional transparent hole in one’s head. It’s time to cue up the Prince, alas: You need another lover… You did feel like dancing, yes?
“Room Full of Scars” is an exceptional story from this collection that we have published in this issue. A room that holds a lifetime of this woman’s pain and too much light for her lovers to bear.
“After scar after scar had been flung upon the walls, she admitted the inside was nearly blinding, the memory of four dead children as inventory, two divorces, one botched bankruptcy, a dangerous illness, a substantial loss of income, a punishing loss of friends, social anxiety, vanished faith... her list went on and on. Regardless she considered herself an optimist.”
I believe I have a room like this, although with the shades drawn, that I walk around in. Can you indulge us again on this story and what inspired you to pull all of one person’s pain into a room full of light? Sublime.
HF: Thank you. This piece was actually one of the last stories in the collection’s real-time chronology. There is the sense, or has been in my life, that the people who feel the most intensely, most deeply, need a sort of buffer between them and the external world—that anyone who has lived through a lot of pain must create an intensely private place for self-reflection, and that to invite one’s lovers into this place has costs.
I embraced the idea of connecting light to the room full of scars because light is energy. Energy is neither created nor destroyed, but there is danger in suppressing one’s own truths and in excluding all others from seeing them. This danger is the illusion of the individual’s perception of “difference.” In my way of thinking, this story depicts a woman desperate to free herself from her own coping mechanisms for accepting the pain and the slights endured in her life. But how do lovers bond? Isn’t there always a certain measure of oddly timed discovery, personal nudity, intense revelation followed by the determination of whether two lives will work together? The more memory one has, the more needs to be conveyed and accepted in a true union.
In this piece, I feel the woman is left at a way station. She has decided to carry all her weight and fear and history upon her person, reclaimed. This is not a reclamation where a burden lifts, but the mixed flow of understanding created by a literal enlightenment. It is a heavy weight, but though she decides, in the end, that she needs no one who does not value her or help her, in my past the page musing for this character, I see a much bolder trajectory. When she heals and carries her own light into the world, her strength and her secrets will be less fiercely guarded—a source of power. She will shine, with no fears of differences, accepting her own flaws and foibles--in a sense, being truer to herself, inaccessible to any who do not perceive the brilliance in a person who has fought for his or her own right to life and triumphed.
I know you have two more collections coming out shortly. Can you share something of those for us?
I have a feminist dystopia collection due out this May from Aqueous Books. It’s a dark book, entitled, This Time, While We’re Awake. Here is its description from the publisher:
“Fowler's new collection, This Time, While We're Awake, welcomes you to the worlds of egregious dystopias—environments where tornadoes come one after another as neighbors spar, drugged breeders make babies in the near-future for the sterile rich, humans are sacrificed by contract to aliens who protect them, and the government provides zombie murder buses for insurgents while testing middle-class children, in advance, to fill the needs of militants and industry. In this collection, Fowler examines what it means to be fair and humane in the surreal landscapes where the ruling factions are neither of these things. Come and get your Practice Baby, if you'd like to try parenting. Take an injection to experience love without a partner. This collection showcases not only Fowler's trademark heart and humor, but also a darker dimension of commentary similar to Bradbury or The Twilight Zone. Selected stories in this volume have been published internationally and online.”
I have another book I’m hopeful will be contracted soon, which is a mixed media illustrated short fiction collection about mental illness. I’ve moved away from love, obviously, and onto the decimation of the planet. You know, like ya do. I’m also hopeful that my magical realist novel will soon be contracted and am in the process of putting together some books of poetry
Who are your biggest inspirations as a writer?
HF: I think this question can be answered about five different ways. I’ll choose the one most relevant to me at the moment. My children. I want my creative work, its sales, to create opportunities for them. I gave my first two books to women’s charities and movements—I will give my next two books to my kids, to their edification and support.
Who are you reading right now?
HF: Right now, I’m reading Monique Wittig, James Joyce, Grace Paley, and Don DeLillo.
Were you a city girl when you grew up? Where do you hail from?
HF: I was born in Los Angeles and raised in San Diego. I do not tan, but burn. I am not shallow. My valley girl accent is put on only for frat parties or private entertainment. This surprises people. In Virginia, when I lived there, people found it hard to believe I was from California. That’s okay. I like where I’m from to seem a mystery.
Can you share with us what your writing space looks like? What surrounds you and do you have a window to look out of?
HF: My writing space looks like an art-freak lady, about 5’2,” with constantly changing hair color and garment styles, who walks around gazing into curious cubbies, forcing herself to pay attention to the road when she drives, which is always less preferable than letting someone else drive—who is generally daydreaming while caretaking, everywhere in the anywhere. Her windows are her eyes. Her fingers drip with ink. Her children teach her new words all the time.
So beautiful! Do you have any favorite words that exemplify your writing?
HF: Transformation. Juxtaposition. Unfortunate conundrum. Mythology. Mystery. Hope.
Give me a wildass Heather Fowler quote. One that stands out for you. One that introduces the reader to your raw, no-holds-barred talent.
HF: Here’s a small quote from a story that is also in People with Holes, entitled “How to Rescue a Drowning Man.” From the tutorial found therein: “Are you ready to rescue? Go! Yes! Save! Still, whatif you are saving and the victim is wearing on you,struggling with you, wailing or crying and trying to clutchat you? Shouldn’t you have been told: ‘Instruct the victimto shut the fuck up and go along for the ride’? If youweren’t told this, how do you deal with it?Okay, just in case...5. Fifth, instruct the victim to shut the fuck up andgo along for the ride.’”
After all, one can’t be too careful with how one instructs the victim, right, Meg? Survival is key. In retrospect, I think these three words actually address a lot of my themes—including those in “Room Full of Scars.” Let’s all radiate light together. Thanks so much for having me here, and I hope your readers enjoy my work.
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE! Thank you so much, Heather, for sharing some of your pure brilliance with us! I am honored to have you as our featured fiction writer for this issue. You rock it, ALWAYS!