Guest Post: Elizabeth Kirschner
I hope you're enjoying this holiday season! I have the wonderful pleasure of hosting Elizabeth Kirschner on the WOW! blog tour for her collection of short stories: Because the Sky is a Thousand Soft Hurts. She's going to talk to us today about the mind behind the story, and how it has a circular as opposed to linear nature. And then I will tell you a little about her book.
In considering how the mind functions behind the short story, I think it begins with a readerly attitude, i.e., one learns how the story works through two actions. Reading and writing.
It’s always been stunning clear to me that stories can’t be created unless one reads vastly, deeply, closely. The writer who reads approaches reading a little differently than the reader who does not write.
It’s doubly layered. Not only is the writer reading for the absolute pleasure of finding words on a page placed by someone who is likely a better thinker, better writer, better renderer of description, one reads with the need to probe, or apprehend how it got done.
This lends a certain intensity to reading. Makes it more muscular. It is the mind at work, looking into the nooks of sentences, into those phrases that do so much, they leave one breathless.
Writers learn from other writers. It’s not exactly imitation that I’m talking about. It’s more like dissembling an engine someone else built in order to deduce what made it work. How did it manage to get off the ground, soar?
I do believe the thinking, or feeling, in a story is distinctly circular. There’s no clear through line. One embarks with a sentence, a hint, something as simply and homely as “I heard the vacuum running in the next room.”
The writer then interrogates the sentence. Who’s vacuuming? Why does it sound like someone’s polishing shoes? Or a velvety murder? Or smell like cheese?
In those three short responses, the writer has begun the search for character, for what’s taking place, and why. The situation and the story.
So much of what lies behind a story is uncovered by querying with precision, with relish. The questions themselves are an insistence, a drilling. By its very nature, the question turns in on itself, is recursive, thus circular, akin to journeying down a spiral.
The idea isn’t so much as to offer an answer. That’s not what the story seeks to do. It has a decidedly different mission. It wants to enthrall, even if the enthralling entails the violent, the horrific, or the just plain ordinary.
What’s titillating is the evocative. If there’s that tunneling down the spiral, the work of the story is to tunnel back out. We often talk about the revelatory, and this may come near the end of the story, but it isn’t the story.
The story is about real people and what real people might do given the circumstances. This to me is extraordinary. It brings to mind one of Flannery O’Connor’s stories where one of the characters steals the main character’s wooden leg.
Of course, we don’t know that the leg is going to get stolen until it does. By then, that leg has accrued all sorts of weight and meaning and it feels inevitable.
This, then, is the joy of it. The story does not state the meaning, but suggests it, hence that feeling of circularity again.
The last sentence should necessarily cast the reader back to the first one, and in this manner, the work of meaning lies solely in the hands of the reader. The reader gets to experience meaning.
If something as domestic as a vacuum can suggest a velvety murder, well, there’s a deliciousness in this, a need to savor, to query further and round and round it goes.
Thank you so much for sharing, Elizabeth! It's true that so much of the writing process goes back to questions, and that so much of the reader experience is experienced rather than simply being told how to feel. Writing and reading can truly be magical that way!
About the Book
Because the Sky is a Thousand Soft Hurts is a raw and intense collection of intricately layered short stories that touch on the recurring themes of sexual violence, domestic abuse, mental illness, and addiction.
The characters are often cruel and inhumane with parents speaking in riddles to their abused children. The narrators are all women, usually unnamed, who have a lost, dissociated quality to them, as the details of their lives seem to fray.
As the stories develop, some of these narrators find love and normalcy, though not always happily. Violence pulses steadily throughout the collection, but it is the author's hope that the stories not only reveal the breadth and power of her poetics, but also give voice to the disturbed, the dispossessed and the lowly in an elegant, lyrical form.
About the Author
Elizabeth Kirschner is the author of Because the Sky is a Thousand Soft Hurts. It was brought out by Atmosphere Press in June, 2021.
Kirschner has published five volumes of poetry, most recently, My Life as a Doll, Autumn House Press, 2008, and Surrender to Light, Cherry Grove Editions, 2009. The former was nominated for the Lenore Marshall Prize, the Patterson Book Prize and named Kirschner as the Literary Arts Fellow in the state of Maine, 2010.
Her memoir, Walking the Bones was published by The Piscataqua Press, February, 2015. It was the winner of the North Street Book Prize for best work of nonfiction by an Independent author.
Kirschner has been writing and teaching multi-genres across four decades. She served as faculty in Fairfield University’s low-residence MFA in Creative Writing Program and has also taught at Boston College and Carnegie-Mellon University.
She has collaborated with many classical composers and this work is featured on numerous CD’s, including The Dichterliebe in Four Seasons, Schumann/Kirschner.
She currently serves as a writing mentor and manuscript consultant and teaches various workshops in and around her community in Kittery Point, ME.
Check out the entire blog tour for this book and see what other readers are saying! Start by stopping by The Muffin blog to enter into a giveaway!
A note from C.K. Sorens
The Street Team sign-ups are officially closed for Afflicted, book two in the Trimarked Series! There's still a chance to help out, though. ARC readers are an important part of the process by providing one of the most important pieces of a book's success - reviews! ARC sign-ups are open through December 17th for everyone who wasn't quite ready to join a street team, but are still interested in helping out with Afflicted's release.
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