Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Andrea Eberly’s fiction piece, The Mouse and the Walnut Shell
Sommer: As fiction writers, it seems as if the bulk of our job is deciding at which point in the story, if at all, we reveal the fact of something. I particularly like how you decide to slowly reveal the vital elements in this story: the “pink plastic-wrapped wand,” the realities of Calvin and Max, the fact that Jenna and Max are in fact trying to have a baby (this most startling of all, I thought). What do you think is the benefit of this “unscrolling” of facts? And how do you decide the value of evasiveness?
Andrea: The structure wasn’t deliberate—or rather it was not more deliberate than what came out of going deep into this character during a particular moment in her life. I was trying to capture that feeling of association of one thought to the next, flashes of sensation, memory, insight. Which is why the piece opens with simple observations, then progresses deeper and deeper into the character. Finally, a primal memory is revealed: The bedtime stories of her father. These bedtime stories are woven into her foundation as a person, yet she knows it is a fable for a little kid. Real life isn’t like that.
It isn’t surprising that Jenna is feeling ambivalent about having a baby—this is exquisitely common. What is surprising (and refreshing and wonderfully complex) is that she and her partner are actively trying to have a baby and she doesn’t really want to. Why is she going against her desires? Why are desires so hard to pinpoint or justify, especially for women? She also feels ambivalent towards her partner. She wants freedom. She may love Calvin too. How do you think Jenna can obtain her freedom, which is, quite frankly, my greatest desire for her?
If people knew what made them happy—free—there would be no stories and we would have no need for them. Haha. Happiness is such a slippery thing, I mean, Jenna could just get the hell away from these men who want things from her, but isn’t part of being a whole person getting tangled up with people, needing things from each other?
Did you know that this would be a flash story as you were writing it, or did it take some time and whittling to figure that out?
I’m not really a flash writer—I’ve written maybe five completed flash pieces in my life. My ideas are, sadly, usually four to five thousand words long. Haha. But this thing started as an image, an idea, a stub really. I wrote a draft and it was only 300 words. Too generic, it didn’t have any of the particulars that make a story stick. I knew it was malfunctioning and rested on it for a long time until one day I got the idea to weave a sort of fairy tale into it and that seemed to give the piece the resonance that had been lacking.
Why end with the story’s beautifully haunting metaphor instead of begin with it?
I wanted the image to be elucidative rather than mysterious.
Do you have any advice for writers on handling rejection?
Rejections suck, but you can’t dwell on them. There are a lot of good writers out there all trying to get into the same places you are, so you’re going to get rejections. Never stop reading, learning, working. Get better. Keep writing. Keep submitting.
Thank you so much for doing this interview with me, and congratulations!
My pleasure, and thank you for publishing me!