We talk to Kate Feld – whose stories appeared in issue forty-one – about surrealism, nonfiction and getting the balance right when it comes to short stories.
I loved the surreal ideas behind each of your short stories in issue forty-one. Is there often an element of the surreal in what you write? Where do you get your ideas?
Yes, there’s a strong current of surrealism in my fiction. This isn’t intentional, I think it’s just the way I make sense of the world. Each story is an allegory for some piece of my reality. I don’t really understand how it works. Some situation, comment or emotional smell gets snagged in my unconscious and filters through it until it emerges as a story. Sometimes this takes months and multiple attempts. Other times it happens really fast and I think, “Wow, cats? That’s weird. Okay.”
Your stories are short, but work exceptionally well – each one is a glimpse into a distinct narrative world. Do you have any tips or thoughts about writing very short fiction?
I only started doing this about eighteen months ago and the three stories you’ve published in Neon are, in fact, my first fiction in a literary magazine so I’m in no place to be issuing pronouncements about how to write stories. I’m going to point you to this great thing David Gaffney wrote about writing short-short stories because I don’t really think I can add much to it.
Right now I’m thinking a lot about beginnings and endings. It helps me to think of starting a story being like running out the door – it has to be done with a kind of brisk confidence or the reader won’t follow you. Endings still feel to me like something mysteriously God-given – either the ending is there when you reach for it or it isn’t and I still have no idea why it is or isn’t, or how you can make it be there.
I write really short because I started writing fiction specifically to perform live, which I’m learning is kind of an unusual way to come to it. In Manchester’s live literature scene, where there is a wonderful culture of short-short fiction, open mic slots tend to be between three and six minutes, so that dictates the length. I’m experimenting with longer stories now but it’s a whole different thing.
The protagonist in “The Bag” seems, at times, uncertain whether she likes or dislikes the strange objects she keeps finding in her handbag. Is this a horror story, or the beginning of an adventure?
It could be either; I’m not certain myself. I’ve got a kind of fetish for ambiguity. Writing a story is like drawing the shape of a creature you can just see the shadow of – you don’t ever want to see it clearly. The reader has to finish the picture, to imagine it themselves, in order for the story-creature to come alive.
Too much ambiguity and your story is too light and airy to coalesce into something solid. Not enough ambiguity and it’s too heavy with explanations to take flight. The trick is getting the balance right.
You run a reading series called “The Real Story”, and are involved in a number of other projects. Could you tell me a little about some of those?
The Real Story is a quarterly reading series in Manchester focusing on creative nonfiction, which I also write. It’s a form of writing that is much better known in my native America than the UK, but we’re trying to promote it by showcasing great essayists and publishing short nonfiction in text and audio online. I also work for Manchester Literature Festival, host author/writing events and lecture in journalism at Salford University. I’m working on a big piece of writing over the winter that might end up being an essay or a story collection or a kind of mashup between the two.
What are you reading at the moment? And do you have a favourite book?
At the moment I’m drawn to books that sit uneasily between the traditional categories of fiction, memoir, essays and poetry. In I Love Dick, a fascinating memoir/art project/feminist manifesto published in 1997 and just reissued by Serpent’s Tail, Chris Kraus transforms an infatuation into an artistic process and upends the subject-object relationship. At the same time I’m reading Kelly Link’s latest short story collection, Get In Trouble, which is too wonderful for words. She is one of the first writers who made me pay attention to short stories, so a new collection from her feels like a gift.
And I don’t have a favourite book, or really I have too many of them, but my most intensely pleasurable reading experience was probably Virginia Woolf’s The Waves.
Kate Feld is a writer whose work has appeared in Flax, Contributoria, 330 Words and Rainy City Stories. She is the co-editor of creative nonfiction journal and reading series The Real Story (therealstory.org). She lives in Manchester and tweets at @katefeld.