Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Mercedes Lawry’s fiction piece, It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood
Sommer: I love how you have made this story funny while also dealing with some pretty heavy issues around nature vs. nurture and the definition of love. If Baby 2 had Baby 1’s mom, he would definitely have a different attitude, and vice versa. On the other hand, Baby 2 is so in tune with his mom’s bull-headedness that one can’t help but imagine that some of that is in-grown. On the other hand, if a baby were constantly being treated with such rough-and-tumble laissez faire-ness, then it would stand to reason he’d act the same way. And on and on. What scenarios do you run through in your imagination when these two pairs eventually meet?
Mercedes: I hadn’t thought about the 2 pairs meeting. I am intrigued by relationships between neighbors, and perceptions we have of people when we only see a slice of who they are, what they are about. I grew up in the 50s and 60s when kids were told to go outside and play and don’t come back till lunch or dinner, unless you have to go to the bathroom. As I’ve watched the styles of parenting evolve to helicoptering and worse, I wonder how kids ever figure out who they are & discover their own creativity. And when I think about how many kids in this country are homeless & go hungry, the overindulgent behavior sends me up the wall!
Like I said, I love the humor and delightful irreverence in this story. The pace is snappy, the story is fun to read for its oddness and intrigue, and then afterwards we’re left with our own contemplation, slowly dawning. I’m curious as to whether you think flash fiction is particularly good at allowing (or forcing?) writers to home in on theme and plot? And what do you think are the particular challenges in writing a satisfying story that is so short?
I do think flash or short fiction forces you to zero in on story, theme, and character. I could never write a novel (tho I read them voraciously). Perhaps for the same reasons I was drawn to poetry, I’ve been drawn to flash fiction. I’m all about compression, thinning a piece down as far as I can. This can hobble a story arc and I can end up with more of a monologue, or undefined hybrid piece. Sometimes that’s okay, sometimes it means the piece doesn’t go anywhere except back in the draft file.
I see from your bio that you also write poetry. Do you find it difficult to go from writing poetry to writing fiction and back again? Do you have periods when you write primarily one instead of the other, and do you have ideas as to why?
Poetry definitely requires a different mindset, more contemplative. Sometimes, if I’m unable to get my head into that space, I find short fiction comes more easily. When I have a lot of commitments to the “outside” world, I’m less likely to write poetry. However, there’s a thin line between a prose poem, short prose, flash fiction, & hybrid work. I prefer to think of all these genres as fluid rather than distinct.
Do you have any advice for writers on handing rejection, and on how to stay inspired?
Ha! Thick skin, don’t take it personally and above all persevere. If you don’t submit, you won’t get published and have more readers than just your best friend. When I started publishing, there were a lot fewer people submitting (pre-MFA days). Now that factor, coupled with the ease of online submissions, means the competition is staggering. Concentrate on what is important to you as a writer, not the celebrity culture, the deluge of contests, etc. We’re living in crazy times, to put it mildly. Trust yourself.
Thank you for doing this interview with me, and congratulations!