Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Leslie Trahan’s fiction piece, Soft Cheese
Sommer: This story feels like a fable. Indeed, each unnamed character seems to be a representative of a larger group. Yet, unlike a fable, there isn’t a single, obvious, and resounding message—the story leads us into thinking about many things regarding gender, and how women help and hinder each other. As you wrote this, were you aware of walking that line between fable and fiction? And did you find yourself drawing upon any specific elements of craft or imagination to help?
Leslie: This story started as an experiment. I’d never written anything quite like this before, but once I had the first few lines down, I felt compelled to see where they took me. I knew right away that I didn’t want to give the characters names or too much definition, but I didn’t know what effect that would wind up having on the story when it was done.
After I finished this piece, I put it aside for a full year before I looked at it again. I wasn’t quite sure what it was or if I even liked it. When I finally opened it up again, I was surprised by what I’d written. It immediately struck me as a kind of modern-day parable, and I edited it to make that connection even more transparent.
It’s unbelievable to me (in the most believable way possible) that the woman STILL doesn’t want the girl to eat the cheese even though it’s lying destroyed and oozing on the wet sidewalk. What do you think is the human factor there that compels the woman to act that way, and why?
I think the woman wants to protect the girl, but only if doing so doesn’t disrupt the power balance that’s in play at the beginning of the story. The woman is threatened by the girl’s shift toward self-actualization because once the girl has reached that level of understanding, she is free to reject the woman’s ideas of the world or to lose interest in her entirely.
The pacing and movement are great in this story. Do you think this comes from feeling the story as you compose it, or more of a logical mapping and planning of it?
Thank you! Pacing has always been a struggle for me, but with this story, it came more naturally. Before I wrote this story, nothing terrified me more than sitting in front of my screen, hands at the keyboard, thinking, “ok, now what?” As a result, I tended to be more of a mapper. I tried to have at least some idea of where I wanted things to go before I sat down to write, even though I honestly never wound up going in the place that I had planned. Viewing this piece as an experiment from the beginning helped me let go of the idea that I needed to have a plan. I let the story escalate on its own and then cleaned up the mess later.
Do you have any advice for writers on handling rejection?
I have been submitting my stories for less than a year now, so I haven’t yet figured out the best way to handle rejection. So far, my technique has been to assume each story I write will never see the light of day. Each rejection feels natural, and the eventual acceptances are a remarkable surprise. Can’t say I recommend this method, though.
What else are you working on these days?
I’m always working on way too many things at once, but right now I’m particularly obsessed with telling stories through child narrators. I have young children, so I think a lot about how our impressions of the world during childhood shape our understanding of human relationships, gender conceptions, identity, and where we fit into the whole mess of things.
Thank you for doing this interview with me, and congratulations!
Thank you! It’s been a pleasure.