Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Anne Boyle’s nonfiction piece, Irises
Sommer: I like what you do in this story with point-of-view, alternating in the beginning between first person and second. “I” is the narrator of the story, which is, at its core, a sad one. “You” is the giddy, sunny, hypothetical version of “I.” “I” is trying to tell a true story, free of “You”’s need for veneer and polish, and “You”’s probable shame. There is something so wonderfully liberating about “I” admitting to buying flowers despite there being no sun for them—for boldly telling a story that is about “something sharp and prickly.”
Anne: It’s so fun and interesting to read your experience of this story and what the interplay between “persons” reveals to you. I think the “I” in this story certainly struggles with the temptation to take prickly things and temper them with a glossy shine—rather than let them be authentic and expansive and even sad.
When I reread this story a little while after writing it, I was surprised to notice just how many color words it uses. They are everywhere! The narrator’s focus follows senses and hues. I wonder if details stick more easily to rawness that you don’t try to cover. I wonder if the attempt toward authentic art, regardless of its success, deepens our attention. I wonder if there is a brightness (if not a “shininess”) somewhere in it all anyway.
What do you mean by “that blue flame”? Do you think every good piece of writing has that behind/inside it?
I think I need to answer your second question first: Yes, absolutely! In fact, I might be so bold as to suggest that every piece of writing and possibly every attempt at expressive creation, whether its result is “good” or “bad,” has it too.
The impulse to create stories is such a beautifully human thing, whatever form it takes. I suppose that is, quite simply, what the “blue flame” suggests. A perennial reaching outward; the attempt to share some truth of our experience and to place it in the context of others’ experiences. Even though we know we will fall short. It’s a spiritual act, isn’t it?
“Irises” is a very short story. How did you know you were finished with it? Do you ever feel as if you have to resist the temptation to “blow up” very short stories into longer ones?
It is very short! I think I began writing flash nonfiction/fiction without realizing it. There were experiences and images and ideas that carried an urgency in my mind; they demanded a space on the page. I would start writing them with the idea that they might become pieces of a longer narrative, but sometimes they became their own entities. Bits of mystery that I could witness and explore and ponder. I didn’t know where to put them, but they also felt like things I could not not write.
I think the temptation to expand short stories sometimes stems from a fear that a short piece is the result of a shortening attention span—or the desire to appeal to one. Is the rapid pace at which our society consumes and discards media affecting how I write? Is the mindless Facebook scroll to blame? So it’s finding a way to ask intentionally whether a story has said what it needs say.
Any advice to writers about handling rejection?
I love that you ask this question. One of the things that has been helpful for me is, in fact, the candidness with which many writers talk about rejection. It’s comforting to identify with others’ experiences and with the range of emotions that rejection prompts. And it’s comforting to find so many assertions that publication is not the qualification for “being a writer.”
One of the first times that I had a piece of writing accepted—a short blog post—I received a little handwritten note from the publication team with words of encouragement. It was nearly as meaningful as the “yes” itself. I think that many creative communities are eager to recognize how much persistence and heart their crafts require—and how deeply our society needs creative spaces. Holding onto these little things is helpful too.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with me!
Thank you for the invitation, and thank you for the opportunity to share in The Forge Literary Magazine!