Posts Categorized: Fiction

INTERVIEW WITH 2021 FICTION PRIZE JUDGE, KALI FAJARDO-ANSTINE

Indiana Review is accepting submissions for the Fiction Prize until March 31st, 2021! In this interview with Fiction Editor Laura Dzubay, 2021 judge Kali Fajardo-Anstine opens up about her award-winning collection of short stories, Sabrina & Corina, the importance of craft in good fiction, and what’s in store for the future.

Kali Fajardo-Anstine is the author of Sabrina & Corina (One World, 2019), winner of an American Book Award and Reading the West Award. Fajardo-Anstine is the 2019 recipient of the Denver Mayor’s Award for Global Impact in the Arts. Her writing has appeared in print and online at Harper’s Bazaar, ELLE, O, the Oprah Magazine, The American Scholar, Boston Review, Bellevue Literary Review, The Idaho Review, Southwestern American Literature, and elsewhere.

A lot of the stories in Sabrina & Corina manage time really masterfully—weaving characters’ backstories in through flashbacks, jumping forward in time to the most relevant scenes, introducing a key event early and then explaining it later, etc. Could you say a little about how you decide to handle time when you’re writing a short story, and what you think its relationship is to structure?

Thank you! Time fascinates me, and I think much of this obsession comes from being part of a large family that has inhabited the same geographic space for generations, and in some cases since time immemorial. The way I tend to handle time in fiction is intended to replicate the reality of having numerous timelines existing at once during a scene. That is to say, if I am standing on a street corner in Denver, not only do I possess my own memories of that corner, but I often have glimmers of stories from my ancestors collapsed into my own experiences. My characters’ minds function in the same way.

Time in my work is communal, shared, and is often not linear. Structurally, this makes for time-infused scenes, where each sentence is imbued with layers of meaning, allusions to the ancestral past, but also an understanding that the future eventually brings death. “Time is an ocean,” sang Bob Dylan, “but it ends at the shore.”

Short stories can feel like microcosms of characters going through specific changes in particular areas of their lives, but in a good story we often get the sense that a character is a complete person, even when what we see of them is limited. How do you decide what parts of a character’s life to include in a story, and what does the process of getting to know a character look like for you?

During my MFA at the University of Wyoming, the first short story I turned into workshop was a draft of “All Her Names.” I was writing about a character named Alicia who had once been well-known in the Denver graffiti scene. I knew she painted trains and had an ex-boyfriend she ran around with despite being married to an older man. Back then, this was 2011 or so, the story wasn’t landing the way I wanted it to, and my professor, the late Brad Watson, stopped me in the English department hallway. We were on a split-level staircase. He was going up and I was going down. The sun was coming in a long window behind Brad’s whitish hair and the stairwell was warm. Brad told me he had been thinking about my story, but he suspected I needed to “dream on it more.” At the time, I thought his advice was ludicrous. I wanted to force my fiction into shape with rules and prescriptive advice. But Brad, a truly gifted and sensitive artist, knew better. Sometimes, we need to listen to our subconscious. Give time over to our characters. Daydream on their realities. “All Her Names” was published eventually and is included in Sabrina & Corina, but it took years for me to finally listen to Alicia.

When reading short fiction, what excites you the most and why?

Everything. If it’s a good story, I’m in love. And what makes a good story? It’s voice, a particular way of looking at the world, a dedication to craft.

Which writers and works do you look to for inspiration?

Arturo Islas, Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, Edward P. Jones, Katherine Anne Porter, James Baldwin, Sandra Cisneros, Kent Haruf, Katherine Dunn, Jack Gilbert, Mark Strand, Joy Williams, Gabriel García Márquez and many, many others.

Are there any projects you want to share that you’re looking forward to in 2021?

I’ve recently finished some new short stories and I’m very close to completing my first novel. I’ve also written my first book review, which is such an intimate and energizing way to learn about a book. 

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Announcing the 2020 Fiction Prize Winner

We are excited to announce the winner and finalists of the 2020 Fiction Prize, judged by Angela Flournoy. Many thanks to everyone who submitted their work and made this year’s prize possible!

2020 Fiction Prize Winner

“Air Hunger” by María José Candela

Angela Flournoy says, “What makes “Air Hunger” impressive is the writer’s ability to evoke two modes of being at once. There are the two settings–the winter streets of Rome, with its young clergy and indifferent taxi drivers; and the shopping malls, apartments and swimming pools of Medellín. The story also examines two postures, both façades, that the narrator adopts at different points in her life. The result of this duality is a main character who feels complicated and real, one who is capable of accessing her regret as well as agency. This narrator and the story she tells will undoubtedly linger in readers’ minds.”

Finalists

“We All Live Here Forever” by Marguerite Alley

“My Wish for You in the Land of the Dead: a Cuban Sandwich” by Leslie Blanco

“We” by Kristina Gorcheva-Newberry

“Wolf Tale” by Anne Guidry

“Compound Fractures” by Alice Hatcher

“Hotel Indigo” by Elie Piha

The winner will be published in the Winter 2020 issue of Indiana Review.

Interview with 2020 Fiction Prize Judge Angela Flournoy

The 2020 Fiction Prize is open until March 31! In this interview, our fiction editor Jenna Wengler sits down with prize judge Angela Flournoy to talk about her writing influences, ghosts, and what makes a great short story.


Angela Flournoy is the author of The Turner House, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and a New York Times notable book of the year. The novel was also a finalist for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and an NAACP Image Award. She is a National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” Honoree for 2015. Her fiction has appeared in The Paris Review, and she has written for The New York Times, The Nation, The Los Angeles Times, and elsewhere.

A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Flournoy received her undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California. She has taught at the University of Iowa, The New School, Columbia University, Princeton University and the University of California at Los Angeles.

Flournoy was the 2016-17 Rona Jaffe Foundation Fellow at the New York Public Library’s Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers. She was awarded a 2018 National Endowment for the Arts fellowship and is currently a Mary Ellen von der Heyden fellow in fiction at the American Academy in Berlin. 


The Turner House is in some ways deeply rooted in realism, as it explores the traumatic effects of the 2008 Subprime Mortgage Crisis on an African American family in Detroit. And yet, the novel opens with a chaotic encounter with a “haint,” and Cha-Cha’s struggle with the haint becomes one of the most memorable storylines in the novel. How did you negotiate the relationship between the characters’ brutal financial reality and the ghost story? Do you think about genre as you write, or does blending genre come naturally?

I think that for many writers genre is a concept you learn or are taught to take into account long after you develop your love of stories and storytelling. I don’t think about genre when writing, I think about the best way to tell the story I’d like to tell, as well as what elements feel real to the world I’m creating for my characters. In The Turner House, many, but not all characters believe in the possibility of a haint being real. My portrayal of the haint is rooted in exploring these characters’ relationships to their own beliefs. I never gave much thought to the conventions of incorporating this “magical” element into the story; I simply considered how it might impact my characters.

This introduction of the haint in the opening chapter of the novel feels like a reference to Toni Morrison’s Beloved. However, in a departure from Beloved, your ghost scene is injected with a sense of humor that continues to crop up throughout the story. How does humor function in a novel that also deals quite seriously with such topics as race, intergenerational trauma, and financial ruin?

The epigraph of The Turner House includes a quotes from Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men: “The negro offers a feather-bed resistance. That is, we let the probe enter but it never comes out. It gets smothered under a lot of laughter and pleasantries.” This, in part, encapsulates my tonal approach to the novel. 

If a short story were a house, what would be its foundation? In other words, what elements do you see as most essential to crafting a great short story?

When I think about what differentiates an acceptable short story from a truly great one, it is skin in the game. Where is that kernel of true feeling or insight that elevates all other parts of the narrative?

What are your literary obsessions? What images or ideas do you find yourself returning to again and again?

There are way too many images to name, but I will say that compellingly-rendered human interactions trump abstract ideas for me in most cases.

And finally, what are you reading right now?

I am reaching Romance in Marseille, a newly-released novel by Claude McKay which was written in the 1930s but never published.

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Fiction Feature: “Self-Portrait” By Halimah Marcus

 

Self-Portrait

 

Going to the Frick was Mabel’s idea. The purpose was for her and I to get to know one another—me, the new wife, her, the old friend. Or not that old, really. She and Daniel had become close in the last year, which was unusual, given his moratorium on new friendships. Friends were demanding. Friends required time. Friends were a threat to the next drawer-bound novel.

            On the Q train he stood above me, feet apart, my knees between his. Daniel never sat on trains unless they were empty. How he considered the needs of others before his own, before mine, it made me feel inferior but I also respected it.

            “I used to have a company pass to the Frick,” Daniel said. That was back when he worked at the hedge fund, before he saved enough money to quit. “Maybe it still works.”

            I held the back of his knee and grinned up at him. “Either way,” I said.

            The three of us met on 70th street on a lukewarm spring day. I wore a short skirt with a crochet scarf—I didn’t like the outfit but suspected Mabel would, based on pictures of jewelry she’d made that I’d seen on her website, crafty stuff. If Daniel was anxious I couldn’t tell—anxiousness was not one of the qualities he displayed visibly. Those were limited to anger, satisfaction, and resolve. Most days, lust wasn’t even on the list. He made love almost entirely with a straight face, buried the lede on orgasms.

            As we milled about the galleries it was difficult for all three of us to stay together, so I drifted apart to the far wall or the next room. Whenever I looked for Daniel he seemed always to be with Mabel, their tolerance for each painting exactly matched. I sulked by pretending to be more independent than I felt, charting my own course through the wooden and white rooms.

            Truthfully, I wasn’t all that interested in paintings. I was practical—I appreciated culture but I didn’t confuse art as passion and I think Daniel liked that about me. I left room for him to be the creative one.

            Eventually Mabel came and brought me to stand in front of Rembrandt’s “Self-Portrait” where Daniel was waiting. It was a brushy number with a lot of affectionate self-loathing in brown paint.

            I thought I was standing next to Daniel but then somehow Mabel was between us. “Peter Schjeldhal says this is the best painting in all of New York,” she said.

            I let her stay there. “And what does he say is the best pizza?”

            Daniel intervened. “I think he posed it as a question—is Rembrandt’s ‘Self-Portrait’ the best painting in New York?”

            “Well, I think it is,” Mabel said.

            “Have you seen them all?” I couldn’t help it.

            “At least the permanent collections.”

            We sidestepped to the adjacent painting, which was also a Rembrandt, and I asked her to send me the article. At least I was trying. “The Polish Rider” had more hope to it, an out-of-sight sun that was either rising or setting and a white horse that caught the light.

            “I will,” she said. “And I brought something to read about this one. But I’ll save it for dinner.”

            “You’ve made quite a syllabus.” A comment that Daniel, poor guy, let me get away with.

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