Thursday Apr 18

ParkerKelcey Kelcey Ervick Parker is the author of LILIANE'S BALCONY (Rose Metal Press), a novella set at Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater. Her story collection, FOR SALE BY OWNER (Kore Press), won the 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Award in Short Fiction and was a finalist for the 2012 Best Books of Indiana in Fiction. She is the recipient of an Individual Artist's Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission and a Promise Award from the Sustainable Arts Foundation. She blogs, now and again, here.

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Kelcey Parker interview with Meg Tuite


“The Most Secret Things,” is definitely from another time. I’m reading Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein right now and even though that is an epistolary novel, there is a movement of the language, sentences and structure that remind me of this story. Tell me how this story came to be for you, and if it is part of a larger piece?

I love that you see a link to Frankenstein, which unfolds so elegantly and menacingly. For this story, I was rereading my college copy of St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle, not so much for spiritual inspiration but for the rhetorical reticence that she must display as a woman writing in the 16th-century and for the audacious and extended metaphor of the soul-as-castle, of castles within castles, rooms adjacent to rooms as in a prism or diamond. I thought I might do a whole series of stories inspired by the Interior Castle—from the ironic to the gothic. Inspired by a neighborhood estate sale, I published a story in the Notre Dame Review called “Estate Sale at the Interior Castle.” This particular story was originally titled “Murder at the Interior Castle.” (I dunno, maybe I should keep that title!)


Here are some quotes from the story:

“My first failure is in the matter of a beginning. I should have begun with the story, not with myself.”

“In unburdening herself of her secret, V began to heal and thrive, as if the secret had been a deadly knot of diseased cells that she had removed through self-surgery.”

“Perhaps the story can be like a pilgrimage that begins and ends in the same place, but in the middle, oh the middle, when the pilgrim arrives at the destination, is ecstasy?”

“Now I have my own secret. It grows the way they say a disease does, through multiplication, spreading.”

I have to say I was losing my grip while reading it. I wanted answers. I wanted to know more. And isn’t that how we pull the reader along? What are your thoughts on this?

I was thinking a lot about Poe and Kafka as I wrote this. Poe’s narrators always lure us along with a breadcrumb trail of truths and lies that ultimately leads us to a dark and satisfying revelation. Kafka’s narrators, on the other hand, thwart our every desire for understanding. Even his protagonists’ names—K. in The Castle and J. in The Trial—are shrouded in mystery. As are their backgrounds, motives, and the crimes of which they are accused. This is as compelling as it is maddening. The tension in any story stems from what is told and what is withheld.


And resolution is a not a large part of many flash fiction stories. Did you have the full recipe of what the “secret” was while writing this?

As I drafted, I kept writing—via the narrator—these proclamations and promises, but what she was hiding was a mystery to me. The impulse to find out both the “story” and the “secret” were a huge part of what kept me writing this story—of what keeps me writing any story, really. Everything is a mystery when I start writing: who is there, what’s happening, what already happened, what will happen, why, how: as well as how to tell it, in whose voice, in what order, and with what diction. The only thing I knew for sure as I began writing the story was that the secret was no usual secret, that perhaps the castle was no usual castle—but an ‘interior’ castle.


Tell me about your exceptional novella, “Liliane’s Balcony,”( published by Rose Metal Press)? The structure of this story is exquisitely woven between character as setting, the current owners of the house and the tourists who come to visit. What was your inspiration for this beauty?

Thanks, Meg. It was all inspired by a chance visit to Frank Lloyd Wright’s architectural marvel, Fallingwater, about an hour south of Pittsburgh. I’m really into architecture, into Frank Lloyd Wright’s ideas about organic architecture, and into thinking about fiction architecturally. I’m also really interested in tourism, in the stories we tell for fun and profit, and the stories we don’t tell because they’re not super fun or profitable—like the story of Liliane Kaufmann, who lived and died at Fallingwater. And finally I’m interested in a good ghost story, which Liliane’s might be.


Since place is huge in your work, where did you grow up and does that factor into your characters and dialect?

I lived in twelve different places before I was twelve—from Ithaca, NY to small towns in Connecticut and New Jersey, to suburbs of Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati. Each house was larger than the last until my parents divorced when I was in junior high, and our big dream house was split into two smaller houses.

This is surely where I became obsessed with the idea of houses as one empty snail shell after another—as strange constructions that we move into rather awkwardly and don’t always fit quite right. My story collection, For Sale By Owner, is haunted by house after house in this way. And Liliane’s Balcony imagines “America’s most extraordinary house” as yet another imperfectly fitting house.


I love that line, “one empty snail shell after another...”
Who are the inspirations that you go back to again and again, if any? It can be from music, words, film, visual art, or all of the above.

Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, Clarice Lispector, Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo, Herta Müller, Anne Carson, Maira Kalman, Ana Castillo, Remedios Varo, María Luisa Bombal, Lola Alvarez Bravo, Yelena Bryksenkova, Bohumil Hrabal, Daniela Hodrova, Ben Shahn, Hannah Hoch. It makes me happy just typing those names.


LOVE your inspirations! I am now adding a few of those to my ‘to read list,’ thank you!
How about giving one link to a song that you LOVE that speaks to you?

OMG, I should have put Nina Simone in the list above. This is Nina Simone doing a cover of Leonard Cohen’s “Suzanne” in 1969 and it’s the baddest thing in the world. The way her body moves is so full of art and expression and confidence and mastery. And that Voice. (“You think maybe you can trust her/Because she’s touched your perfect body with her mind.”)  


I love Nina Simone! YES!
What are you working on at this point in time?

Once upon a time there was a girl named Božena.

If there’s anything we like as much as a murder mystery, it’s a fairy tale. I’m working on a collage-biography of a Czech fairy tale writer: The Bitter Life of Božena Němcová. It’s a version of her life story told through found texts, including her fairy tales, her personal letters to her malicious husband and unfaithful lovers, and bits of scholarship about her. I’m also including altered images of her statues and houses that I’ve accumulated in my research and travels in the Czech Republic. And some of my own “Postcards to Božena,” wherein I try to make sense of life and love.


That sounds absolutely intriguing. I look forward to reading it.
You have won some exceptional awards for your work. Do you send the work out to the contests, or do your publishers? And what has been your experience with indie publishers, so far?

Both of my publishers—Kore Press and Rose Metal Press—have been fabulous about submitting my work for contests. This can come at a fairly high cost, especially for non-profit or independent publishers, sometimes up to $100 per submission. I’ve been fortunate to have such support from my publishers, and fortunate to have won and placed in several contests. 


Thank you so much, Kelcey, for sending CP some of your pure brilliance and sharing a part of yourself with us in this interview.

Thank you for the great questions, Meg. I love reading all your interviews at CP!

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