Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Corey Farrenkopf’s fiction piece, Kettle Pond
Sommer: I like how Marissa keeps almost scientific notes of the bubbles arising from the kettle pond. She seems to be coping with a very difficult life by boiling it down to its quantifiable elements. What processes did you go through in creating such a unique, young character and, in particular, deciding how she would handle the disappearance of her father and an absent mother?
Corey: That’s an awesome question. In my mind, Marissa was struggling to make sense of things moving in and out of her life and the only way she could deal with it was through concrete analysis . . . or distraction. She can count the bubbles, perform her experiments, observe the natural world and that, in some way, acts as a surrogate for her lacking family life. She finds comfort in the knowable when so much of her life is unknowable. To her, the bubbles symbolize the approach of something, and it’s this strange hope I wanted her to cling to, a belief in some form of magical resurrection and return. Marissa’s inquisitiveness came from my own obsession with the kettle pond across the street from my childhood home. I spent a lot of time down there catching and cataloging insects. There was an ancient snowmobile crashed in it, half submerged, and I always wondered what happened to the driver, why it was left there to rust. The image stuck with me, so I melded that with Marissa’s inquisitiveness and that’s basically the nucleus of the story.
I’m always curious about how a writer knows when to end a story, especially if it’s a piece of flash fiction as “Kettle Pond” is. As you wrote, were you aware that this would be a short piece, or did you find yourself editing it down? Do you write longer stories too, and if so, what do you find are the differences between crafting flash fiction and longer fiction?
With “Kettle Pond” I set out to write a flash piece. I like the idea of setting a limited word count at the getgo and sticking to it. I like the challenge of placing restrictions on myself to force my brain to work differently from piece to piece. In that sense, I know if I’m writing a thousand word story, by word seven hundred I better figure out how to wrap things up and leave no loose ends. I do write longer stories (and novels), and oftentimes in those I find I meander way more than necessary and have to cut back a ton for the sake of pacing. In flash I never have that issue. Instead, I have to figure out the most efficient way to cram as much as I can in a thousand words. I think one of the major differences between flash and longer pieces of fiction is the amount of play I can get away with. It would be hard to write a five-thousand-word story about a giant sentient heap of clothing devouring the New England countryside, but I can totally get away with it in a shorter form. (That one’s called “The Great New England Clothing Heap” and it was published by Third Point Press.) I find that sometimes a fun premise falls apart when I string it out too long. When that happens, I’ll usually scrap a draft and write it over as flash.
Who/what inspires your writing? Do you write more by routine, or when the mood strikes?
As far as flash writers go, I really like the work of Amber Sparks, Jen Michalski, Jan Stinchcomb, Jad Josey, Claire Polders, Cathy Ulrich, and Meghan Phillips. But I also love horror/dark literary writers like Caitlin R Kiernan, Laird Barron, Karen Russell, Paul Tremblay, Kelly Link, Carmen Maria Machado, Stephen Graham Jones, John Langan, Nadia Bulkin, Nathan Ballingrud, Amy Bender, Jeff VanderMeer, Livia Llewellyn, Leni Zumas, Andy Davidson, Dan Chaon, and a bunch of other authors who fall into a similar category. Outside of other writers, I’m mainly inspired by the natural world. You’ll usually find at least one specific animal/plant-related image in each of my stories.
I’m definitely a routine writer. I get a half hour every day on my lunch break and can usually snag one to two hours after/before work at least three days a week. Some weekends I can hammer out five hours a day. On others I get zero. I’d probably get very little done if I waited for the mood to strike . . . I’d probably just be reading instead.
Do you have any advice for writers on handling rejection?
I try to look at rejections as stepping stones. I’ve received three on the day I’m writing this and it isn’t even one o’clock. Lately I’ve been getting more stories published in magazines I really respect after getting between eight and fourteen rejections beforehand. For example, “Kettle Pond” was my twelfth submission to The Forge. I always say it’s good to make two email folders in your inbox. One for standard rejections and one for tiered/personal rejections. That way you can keep track of everything numbers wise, and if/when you need some inspiration, you can dip into the tiered/personal rejection folder and read some editorial praise to get you motivated. It’s a great pick me up.
Thank you for doing this interview with me, and congratulations!