Only Don’t Check the Weather: An Interview with Francine Witte
Thank you, Francine, for joining us for the May Issue at Connotation Press!
I ’ll be upfront: your prose delights and beguiles me. I think I know what a micro can do, but then I read some of yours and I’m surprised all over again. “ Bus Stop ” and “ Her ” are two of your best pieces, in my opinion, because they tell a moment and yet tell a life effortlessly. For example:
“Fall was his favorite season. The crunch of leaves, a pause before they died.” - ‘ Bus Stop ’
“Lawyer tell her look at the jury, make them cry. But her could cry enough for them all.” - ‘ Her ’
What’s your process in writing micro fiction? Do you draft quickly, slowly? Do you spend a lot of time paring and pruning, or does the paring and pruning happen in your head?
Thank you for these lovely compliments. I have been writing micros (short shorts, flash) for a very long time. I think I started in the early 90’ s. I ’ve always been very attracted to compression and saying things in the fewest words possible. My training was in poetry, so I think in those terms, saying something in a way that leaves much for the reader to fill in.
My process is usually a phrase or words that pops into my head. I also work extremely well from prompts. I draft very quickly, and am a pretty good first drafter, editing as I go along. I usually am thinking; can I say it shorter? Sometimes, I have a problem with a story that gets started quickly, then stops. At those times, I leave it alone for a day or so. Often, when I come back, I can see the rest of the story more clearly.
“Her” is a such a powerful tale in which violence is cyclical. The use of the pronoun ‘her’ is really interesting, and kind of ‘others’ or ‘ objectifies ’ this character. Did you start writing this with ‘her’ or did that come later in editing?
It all came from the pronoun “ Her. ” I wrote a story to that. You are very right about the distancing effect changing the pronoun has. That’s what I love most about writing flash. Just doing one thing different can center the whole story.
In “Bus Stop,” ‘Love’ holds up the traffic so that two people can meet. Love’s some busybody. Can you draft a tiny story/ vignette, titled “A Day in the Life of Love” ?
Okay, remember, I’m riffing here:
A Day in the Life of Love
Is like any day. Only don’t check the weather. Don’t look for the clouds that will scowl up the skies, or the cries in the mouths of the babies you pass by. Don’t look for the sun that says “oh yes, love will last.” That sunshine will pass, disaster-like. A day in the life of love listens to the wind and the whistle of happiness blowing away. It wanted to stay. Just like it does every other day.
So, I wrote that pretty quickly. I took the idea of how the day could be structured, and I thought in terms of weather. It could have been anything, meals, errands, etc.
You’ve written a number of books, had a play produced, and won a number of competitions. What’s your proudest writing moment?
I ’m proud and grateful for every single thing. Every publication is amazing to me. I’ve had a number of one-act plays produced, as well as my full-length, and there is something about sitting in the audience and watching the actors, who have worked so hard to bring things to life that I thought up. Then they memorized those words, thought of the best way to say them. That never gets old.
But one (or actually two) of the proudest writing moments were related. My flash fiction chapbook, Cold June, was selected as the first-prize winner in 2010 for the Thomas Wilhelmus Award. The judge was Robert Olen Butler. When I knew he would be reading my stories, I thought, even that was enough. When he chose me as the winner, I would have to say, that was a pretty fantastic moment. Fast forward to last year, where Robert Scottellaro and James Thomas chose two stories from that book to include in the New Micro anthology published by WW Norton. That just amplified the original thrill. When I first started to write flash, those early Norton anthologies were my bible. And now, to be in one of them. Even now, I tingle.
The New Yorker asks you for one of your micros. You are happy. You are very happy. Which one do you choose, and why?
My mind swirls at this question. I have a piece called Doorstep Baby which is composed of different paragraphs and told in a non-linear way. I would choose it because of the off feel of it, how it makes the reader work a little harder.
What’s in the pipeline? Any books or projects on the horizon?
FW: I have a novella-in-flash coming out this year from Ad Hoc fiction in the UK. I am very excited about this. It’s titled The Way of the Wind. My second full-length poetry book, The Theory of Flesh is forthcoming from Kelsay Books.
Thanks so much, Francine, for your time and excellent fiction!
Her didn ’t mean no trouble. But a man, he lick his lips and look too long. Her think back, her uncle and his big dirt fingers, scratchy half moon nails, all over her girl place. Now, this man make her nervous. Her pick up gun and shoot.
Her tell the judge about the uncle. Hide her face when her speak. Lawyer tell her look at the jury, make them cry. But her could cry enough for them all.
Her get twenty, thirty, fifty year. Lawyer tell her no hope. Her nothing but a lost cause. In prison, her don ’t eat for days, food stolen right off her plate. Nasty-eye woman say “tell, and we’ll take your water, too.” Her learn to eat roaches off the floor.
Her get old and see people die. Name after name fly though her head. Her bones go soft and now her sit all day and watch the wall. Her want to be that wall.
Finally, one day it happens. Prison guards find her lying still on the floor. They take her away and scrub and scour that floor till it ’s just as if her never was.
There was Martin and there was Jennifer. Stringless puppets waiting for a bus. Love about to move them towards each other.
Martin, with his morning cup of Mocha Delite. Frothy and perfect in the faint November chill. Fall was his favorite season. The crunch of leaves, a pause before they died.
Back in his bedroom, Martin ’s wife. If only she knew, but she doesn’t. She stares at the dent in his pillow. Soon, that, too, will be gone.
And Jennifer ’s ailing father. The nightly rattle of pills. Who will be there to listen to his endless groans and complaints?
But what the hell does love care? Holds the bus at a traffic light two blocks away. Just enough time for Martin to finish his coffee. Just enough time for Jennifer to put on her lipstick, turn and notice a stranger ’s eyes.