Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Christina Kapp’s fiction piece, Reproductive History
Sommer: Your story reminds me of something Charles Baudelaire said, “Always be a poet, even in prose.” The writing is stunning and vibrant. I love the images of “The rebel baby,” and this, “you want to tuck into a jar under the sink,” which I think so perfectly expresses a certain feeling. The beginning section, “The imaginary baby,” however, reads much more straightforward. Was this intentional, as a way to open the door into this story for the reader?
Christina: First, thank you so much for your very kind compliments! It’s always nice to hear what readers liked about your work and I have the warm fuzzies right now, which is lovely.
Some years ago I went through a period where I wrote a lot of poetry and I still like to do generative exercises that come from meditating on an idea and recording the flow of images that grow out of it—no judgement, no doubting myself, just cataloguing the strange slideshow in my head with all its oddball non-sequiturs and digressions. This grew out of a time when my husband and I were trying to have a baby and my first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. The experience was lonely and confusing and I kept trying to write the story of it, but it wouldn’t come out properly in prose. I remember sitting at my desk trying to write after holding the experience in all day and getting stuck on weird images of inside-out socks with the seams and threads exposed. Every attempt at some kind of linear narrative kept sliding into these other spaces, which was so frustrating, but when I gave up and let myself start tinkering with these images in poetry I felt better. I wrote about dirty laundry and picture frames with shattered glass and nails sticking out of doorjambs and old rolltop secretary desks. Letting go of what I thought a story should look like was such a relief.
When I started “Reproductive History,” I came back to that kind of generative process and the sections grew out of those kinds of exercises.
I’m always curious as to when and how a writer knows a story will be a piece of flash fiction, under 1000 words. For instance, did you debate about writing more kinds of babies before the final “The infinite baby?” Do you generally have a sense when a story is finished?
I’ve always been fascinated by birth stories, and I think in some ways this story grew out of the idea that every birth story is unique and deeply personal. In this story, however, I’m thinking about the intersections one woman has with her fertility over the course of her life, which means the number of sections is somewhat limited by that framework. Could it have been longer? Sure. I love to write long stories. But given the way I chose to approach this one, I knew I was aiming for about 1000 words pretty early on.
Going back to my first question about poetry in prose, in “The grief baby,” you very effectively use a lot of white space between the words and sentences. In so many ways, it is a poem. In what other ways do you like to play around with the rules of grammar in your creative writing?
I agree that this section feels more like a poem than the others because the white space gives it a visual element. To be honest, I don’t think I’ve ever tried using white space like this in a piece of fiction before, but I love the way visual form contributes to meaning in poetry. In any case, it just felt right in this section of the story. There’s so much absence in grief. It can feel like just catching your breath is a struggle, and I thought the white space captured that sensation well.
Do you have any advice for writers on handling rejection?
Oh gosh. Not much other than the usual “keep at it.” I’m glad you ask this question, actually, because I don’t think we talk about rejection enough. While we publicly announce our acceptances, you only hear about rejection in vague terms like “there’s a lot of it,” but it’s hard to know what that means in any kind of practical way. I’ve used Duotrope forever and one of the many reasons I love it is because you can see each publication’s acceptance and rejection statistics. It’s a lot easier to stomach a rejection when you know that a particular publication only accepts about 2% or 5% or 10% (or 0%) of the work submitted. At least then you have a little bit more context and it’s easier to convince yourself not to take it personally, although of course we probably will anyway.
The truth is that submitting sucks most of the time and at times it can tear you down completely, but it’s also a reality of the work so you just have to get some distance and press on. That said (and this kind of stuff is written in the guidelines of nearly every litmag), it’s important to read the litmags you’re interested in and do your research, make sure what you’re submitting is the very best you’ve got, and remember that excellent work gets turned down all the time for reasons having little to do with your work and lots to do with things completely out of your control. Also, it’s important to make sure that producing new work is always in the foreground of your writing life so the submission stuff stays in the background.
I guess I had more to say about rejection than I thought! Good luck to everyone!
Thank you for doing this interview with me, and congratulations!
Thanks so much! I’m absolutely thrilled to have “Reproductive History” in The Forge Literary Magazine!