Fiction really is my thing. Yes, in the film-making world, documentaries may be sexy at the moment, and in the literary scene, creative non-fiction may be what’s hot—but as Neil Gaiman once said (and I may be paraphrasing): “Life is always going to be stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be convincing, and life doesn’t.”
This month, I welcome five incredibly accomplished fiction writers to the Connotation Press party—a few whose work I know very well; a few whose work I really should. The worlds created in these seven stories are the worlds in which we live. But also new ones: Peeled open differently; magnified and obscured. Very convincing.
Featured Writer: Charles Rafferty
“It had been raining toads for weeks. Magda swept them off the porch and tested the air
with her tongue. It tasted of flies, as it had the day before, when she pushed the night’s bounty of exploded amphibians into the calendulas.” – Charles Rafferty, ‘A High, Unignorable Note’
An acclaimed poet and prose writer, with several books of poetry and fiction under his belt (not to mention the New Yorker as one of his many high profile credits), Charles Rafferty brings a delightfully rendered short-short story to this month’s issue, dropping us into a world of toads and awkward relationships. In my interview, I ask Charles about first and last lines; the distinction between predictability and style; and how he tackles a prose piece versus a poem. ‘A High, Unignorable Note’ is also a sneak peek into his novel-in-progress—so more’s to come from Mr. Rafferty!
Featured Writer: Catherine McNamara
“Inside the garden walls shrubs lunged at them. The house had been vacant for four years. The woman who lived there had been Belgian and she had sold up, no reason was given. Marianne, who had never trimmed a plant in her life, felt a rush of interest in greenery, sensing its embrace.” – Catherine McNamara, ‘The Woman Who Previously Worked for the Louvre’’
Catherine McNamara (author of the forthcoming collection of short stories, The Cartography of Others) takes us to southern France in this gorgeously described and effortlessly poignant tale. In fact, it would seem that McNamara has been everywhere in this world—in my interview with her, we learn a little about her globetrotting adventures, from Sydney to West Africa to Italy (and places in between). Find out also why she’d be doing shots with Murukami and Highsmith, and how the conversation might turn out if Achebe and Conrad got together.
“As we approach the airport, some passengers are glued to their windows, watching as the buildings and cars grow larger, and as the trees and playing fields take shape. Other people don’t seem to be interested in the scene out the window; maybe they’ve traveled by air many times and find such imagery boring. Then I hear someone singing, “Looks like we made it.” And I remember the next line of the pop song: “Left each other on the way … to another love.”’ – Thaddeus Rutkowski, ‘Air Travel’
I first came across Thaddeus’ work in People Holding, a story based on a visual prompt "Feeling the Boot" by Thaddeus Rutowski . The image and the story stuck with me, so I was thrilled to learn that he had a story for Connotation. ‘Air Travel’ bears rereading. I haven’t got to the bottom of it yet. This, for me, is the hallmark of a great piece of literary art; the layers and the multiplicity of meanings. The effortless clarity of this story belies a more profound investigation of identity and transportation (in many senses).
“I walk along a path that twists and twists deeper into the unknown woods. The stones beneath my feet guide the way. Trees heavy with emerald fringe a rock-trimmed oval of water. I undress with no shame.” – Tina Barry, ‘Water’
I’m always surprised by how micro fiction works; that’s why I love it so much. There’s magic in it. With only a few lines remaining, I often pause and wonder how on earth this will be a complete piece in so little space. Tina Barry is something of a micro sorceress. And she does just that; she surprises. In these stories, from a linked collection about Marc Chagall’s relationship with Virginia Haggard McNeil, Barry takes us on a journey in three perfectly crafted flashes; each one satisfying, bringing us into land in the final sentence.
“You’re supposed to be happy when you are a grandparent, she thought. You’re supposed to look back on your life and feel like you did something. You’re supposed to feel whole. But instead Norma felt like an old puzzle – pieces broken, pieces lost, pieces scattered across years. She wanted to go back and fetch each one of them, complete the picture. But there was her hand, thin and spotted, her dead foot, and the baby in the incubator.” – Laura Leffler, ‘Early Bird’
At nearly 6,000 words, this is the longest piece of fiction I have published with Connotation Press—and certainly longer than much of the short fiction I tend to read nowadays. Personally, I find that beyond 3,000 words, you’re entering the next level of fiction (essentially the novel in scope, albeit pared down somewhat). This story, however, gripped me from start to finish; it did not want to let go. I think I owe much of that to the carefully wrought character of the main protagonist. Leffler slowly and skillfully reveals the confusion of a person uncertain of how best to put her feet forward.