by Sacha Idell
Given that you’re from Arkansas, I was hoping we could start with you talking a bit about the setting of “Animals is Family” and any personal connection you might have to it. What drew you to return to Arkansas for this story?
The truth is that the most outlandish parts of this story really happened. I went to a bar named T-Bo’s in Camden, Arkansas, with my new stepbrother, who’d recently gotten out of the Army. There was in fact a female mountain lion loose in the bar.
One of the things I love about this story is the feeling of dislocation running through it. The narrator is so conscious of seeming foreign to his new family, yet it’s supposed to be a homecoming, not a displacement. What were you hoping to say in writing about this sensation?
I grew up in a small town in Arkansas (Fordyce) and I often found going there and visiting my family to be dislocating. I felt more at home with my friends and my new interests. This was liberating in many ways—I’d always felt like an odd duck, growing up—but I also felt a sense of loss. I loved my family and I loved my hometown.
There’s something both real and deeply funny in the repetitions that happen in this story—Charlie leaving to call Shelly Green over and over, Chesnutt repeatedly harassing the narrator—could you speak a bit about the role of humor in your work?
First of all, thanks. The absurdity of this situation basically demanded humor. But the repetition in my mind also served a different purpose, which was to remind the narrator of that feeling of spinning his wheels, of going nowhere.
Before reading this story, I was much more familiar with your writing through your novel, A Working Theory of Love. Do you find that the writing process is very different for you when working on a novel rather than a short story?
Yes. I’m always trying to maximalize the short story, to push against its boundaries, but the truths of the short story are poetic truths more than historical truths. I feel that novels have the opposite balance.
What’s the best advice about writing that you've ever gotten?
As I was heading off to grad school at Michigan, Bill Harrison took me out for a coffee and said, “Remember—you don’t know s**t. So go easy on yourself.” It was hard advice to take. Not knowing anything was too scary an idea, probably because it was too true. But existing in the place of not knowing, writing in a space of uncertainty, has been my hardest-fought lesson, and my best.
What are you working on next?
I’m writing a comedy about eugenics.
SCOTT HUTCHINS is a former Truman Capote fellow in the Wallace Stegner Program at Stanford University. His work has appeared in StoryQuarterly, Catamaran, Five Chapters, The Owls, The Rumpus, The New York Times, San Francisco Magazine and Esquire, and has been set to improvisational jazz. He is the recipient of two major Hopwood awards and the Andrea Beauchamp prize in short fiction. In 2006 and 2010, he was an artist-in-residence at the Cité Internationale des Arts in Paris. His novel A Working Theory of Love was a San Francisco Chronicle and Salon Best Book of 2012 and has been translated into nine languages. He lives in San Francisco.
SACHA IDELL is fiction editor of The Arkansas International. His stories appear in the Chicago Tribune, Electric Literature, Ploughshares, and elsewhere, while his published translations include work by the Japanese novelist Kyūsaku Yumeno. He lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.