Interviewed by John Haggerty
Read Lori Sambol Brody’s fiction piece, The Truth About Alaskan Rivers
John: The undercurrents of this piece center around violence and coercion. Even the narrator’s idealized fantasy of Taylor is violent—rapids that will swirl her away. What is our attraction to this kind of danger, do you think?
Lori: Thank you so much for interviewing me, having such great thoughts about my story, and giving it a home! I was driving on the 10 toward downtown L.A., thinking of the ticky-tacky apartment buildings in Los Angeles, the same type of apartments that I grew up in. I got this clear image of this girl watching TV in one of those apartment buildings with her boyfriend, who may or may not be a freeway sniper. I wrote a first draft of the story. In each successive draft, I had to make it more believable that the boyfriend could be a sniper, layering in details about their relationship, about his capacity for violence. I didn’t think of the image of rapids swirling the narrator away as violent—but it definitely is.
Danger and violence are romanticized and sanitized in our culture. But this attraction, for the most part, is one of imagination only.
The interplay of sexuality and death is interesting here, the interaction between Eros and Thanatos. Are they two faces of the same thing? Is love possible without cruelty?
I don’t think that love and death (or sex and death) are two faces of the same thing, and I would hope that love is possible without cruelty. The relationship depicted in my story is not a healthy relationship; it’s one that the narrator is stuck in, just like she’s stuck in her life.
You work a lot with flash fiction. What attracts you to this form?
Writing flash fiction rather than traditional length stories (or novels) is a matter of necessity and practicality. I have two kids and work full-time, so I don’t have much time for writing. I sometimes use my commute time to plan out a story—and I usually can write a first draft of a flash in a few hours. I can get in and out of the story quickly. A traditional length story takes me much longer to write, and editing takes even longer.
Really short fiction is often regarded as limiting—there’s only so much you can fit into such a small space. But do you think there are things that flash can do that longer fiction can’t accomplish?
I disagree with the idea that really short fiction is limiting. I actually think it’s the opposite—it’s freeing. You shrink a story to its core. No lengthy backstory for the characters. Each detail must be important and should work double time—for example, reveal character and advance the plot. Flash fiction also lends itself to experimentation that would not be possible with a longer story. You can jettison one or more of the elements of a story—I’ve read flash fiction all in dialogue and flash fiction with no dialogue at all. There’s flash fiction without a traditional plot. I’ve broken the rules in flash fiction—I wrote one story that was more telling then showing. In my opinion, short form is better for fabulism and magic realism. Flash fiction is also a form that is perfect for using elements of poetry like repetition and cadence that would not work in a longer story. Also, there’s so many different forms of flash. I sometimes use a one paragraph form to give movement and energy to the story. I’ve written a story that actually moved backwards in time.
That said, the needs of the story dictate whether it should be shorter or longer. Certain stories cry out to be told in more than 1,000 words with more than one scene.