by : Joy Elizabeth Clark
I'm interested in learning what first drew you to short fiction. How did this become your preferred form to work within? Are there other short fiction writers you admire or find inspiring?
I was introduced to the flash form on Fictionaut, a website for authors to post and discuss their work. I found it nourishing and magical, like a miniature painting, every color highlighting a detail, shaping a world.
Flash is the concentrate, the real thing. It challenges my brain to grab life in its frailty and silence, its vastness and its brevity. On a practical level, the flash form works well with my full time job and family responsibilities.
There are a lot of writers whose work I admire and feel inspired from. I try to read every short fiction from Allegra Hyde, Megan Giddings, Leonora Desar, Noa Sivan, Gabriela Garcia, and Latifa Ayad.
In "Mumtaz in Burhanpur," I am stunned by the way you build tension through the variant glances at Mumtaz Mahal's death. These were just repetitive enough to be ominous without overbearing. How do you go about finding the delicate balance of repetition and momentum in your slim stories?
I write, and I rewrite. I read it aloud; I show it to my kids. I deconstruct the plot and change the sequence of events. I search for exact words until I tap into the heart of the story and feel a shiver down the spine each time I read it. It’s like stirring a bubbling pot, listening to its sound and letting it settle into a smooth, seamless mix.
I wrote “Mumtaz in Burhanpur” for a short-short fiction contest, so was mindful of the word count from the beginning. The deadline provided me with a sense of targeted awareness and I was able to carve this micro from history in a few days.
I really admired the way in which "A Thousand Eyes" and "Spin" both use weather (humidity and heat, natural disasters) to convey characters’ understanding of sexuality, especially in ways which they are not yet able to articulate. Sexuality is a frequent undertow in your stories, ranging from addressing the taboo to the divine, the powerful to the illicit. What draws you to continue writing about this theme?
My initial thoughts on both these stories originated from weather patterns. Before writing “Spin,” I imagined how two human beings would connect while waiting for a disaster. How they would cope without being dreary or overly romantic.
In “A Thousand Eyes,” I explored a budding relationship against the backdrop of monsoon, braided with an inquiry on one’s sexuality. There’s something about weather that makes me connect it with intimacy. For example, every time I notice the clouds move and change the light, it is like pulling away a sheet from a lover’s body. New ins and outs. Same facts revealed in a different manner. The possibilities are seductive and enticing.
Another reoccurring theme in your work seems to be food; I love how mangoes are featured in both "Up and Up" and "Whatever Remains." In both stories, you examine the way people handle and touch food as a glimpse into their innermost feelings and desires. Similarly, in "New Old,” you use food to symbolize the father's changes: "On the show, the fermented bread puffs in the fuming oil. A new old kind of transformation." What is the relationship between food and writing, for you? What is the relationship between food and subtext, specifically?
I believe food is a medium through which we communicate with our deeper selves, our innermost thoughts. Each time I include a recipe in my writing, I try to reproduce the effect it has on me, starting from the way it looks to the way it tastes and satiates. In essence, I want my readers to sense the transformation in the characters the same as they’d feel after consuming something subtle yet indelible.
Finally, I feel that you have honed an eye for strange, attention-grabbing details that shine within your stories. I love these two beautiful lines from "Piecing”: "Outside, the rain falls loose like coins from a hole in the pocket. I inspect and fold all the wash clothes—no stains, only faint outlines." How do you go about selecting the details that will carry the most weight or stand out most sharply in your stories?
The flash form doesn’t allow a lot of embellishments. So I use details that give appropriate muscle and meaning to the story: sparse yet complete, while leaving space for the reader to feel the reverberations. I don’t know how these phrases/words come to me: maybe rummaged bits from an abandoned story or an old memory or a longing. As I writer, I listen to what the story demands, where it wants to go. Accordingly, I look for crisp and symmetrical elements. For example monuments like Qutub Minar or regular items like loose change in “Piecing.” Once a detail is identified, I constantly edit until I sense its texture and weight homogenize with the plot, until I strike equilibrium.
TARA ISABEL ZAMBRANO works as a semiconductor chip designer in a startup. Her work has been published in Tin House Online, The Southampton Review, SLICE, Bat City Review, Yemassee, and others. She is Assistant Flash Fiction Editor at Newfound.org and reads prose for The Common. Tara moved from India to the United States two decades ago and holds an instrument rating for single engine aircraft. She lives in Texas.
JOY CLARK is an MFA candidate at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, where she serves as the Fiction Editor for the Arkansas International and as an intern for Tin House Publishing. Her work can be read in places such as Juked and Oblong, and in 2017-2018 she was awarded the Walton Family Fellowship for Fiction.