Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Sara B. Fraser’s fiction piece, Driving While Dead
Sommer: One thing I enjoy so much about this story is its play with metaphor. I read this story metaphorically, but it could also be read literally. There’s a compelling bounce going on between the two, which stuns. Is it just me, or have you also observed the disappearance of metaphor in a lot of contemporary fiction? Have writers forgotten about it? How do you think it can be integrated into and strengthen stark, realist, self-centered stories?
Sara: There are a lot of things that bring me joy when writing, and one is a well-executed metaphor. I’m so glad when they’re working (thank you!) because I think it took me years of overwriting them. I’m not saying I always get it right but finding that place where it’s spare enough to work is a real joy and I’ve been working at it for a long time. I didn’t really think of this story metaphorically though. I thought of it more as a kind of homage to love and magic.
You would be able to comment on the lack of metaphor in contemporary fiction better than I could—I’m sure as an editor you’re reading more than I am (I’m a high-school teacher full-time and trying to write my own stuff, so lately haven’t been reading nearly as much as I’d like to be). Metaphor is, though, something that gives me joy as a reader as well, when something gets captured just perfectly in fiction—that light that gets shown for an instant on something that feels true.
And how do you allow risk and imagination to factor in?
Again, finding the balance—taking a risk and then stepping back to make sure it’s not too over the top. That’s the joy of writing, too, isn’t it? Just diving in and letting whatever is going to come out, come out. I just love it and wouldn’t write if I were doing it as something formulaic. I have a full-time job, so I wouldn’t waste my free time writing if I didn’t get that bliss that comes from allowing the imagination to ramble.
I can’t let you go without asking you about the protagonist, whose main identity in this story is as Mom. It still feels as if audiences look down upon mom protagonists because they don’t quite see them as having epistemological weight. Why is this, do you think? In what ways do you see this changing?
Ha! You should talk to my kids! My kids are teenagers now and they don’t need me, or even want to see me or talk to me most of the time, and I think about the traditional Mom role, and how, if that were all there were, that would be it for me—I’d be done and I’d hole up in my house with a rocking chair and wait for grandkids. And as kids, many of us got the benefit of that, of mothers who didn’t do much else besides mother us. But those women have a lot going on inside. I’ve just oversimplified I think. For me, even though it feels kind of thankless now that my kids have grown, it was actually the most meaningful and fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. The love you feel for your kids sometimes feels superheroic. I can see though how audiences might look down on moms. There is a physiological and a psychological kind of used-up-ness that’s wrapped up in mothering. But that’s part of what makes mothers interesting as characters, and gives them the invisibility required of superheroes.
I so admire what you’re able to do in this story in such a brief space. Do you write longer fiction as well as flash fiction? Are there differences in how you approach writing these two kinds of stories?
I don’t actually write a lot of flash fiction. I’ll read stuff to my writer’s group, and they’re always like, “It’s not done yet!” (I’m not an over-writer; I’m definitely an under-writer). But this story, for once, felt like it had to be short. I have written a couple of novels—I’m working on a third. I’ve really been enjoying working on longer-term projects that you can stay with for a couple of years. I don’t think there’s a lot of difference in how I approach longer versus shorter work. I’m still just trying to capture something that feels true. Novels just require more time and headspace. Can I plug my first novel here? It was published last year by Black Rose Writing. It’s called Long Division.
Do you have any advice for writers on handling rejection?
I wish! Not much advice, but I can commiserate. I can say, to make readers feel better, that I have hundreds of rejections under my belt, and honestly, it sucks. I suppose my advice would be, if it sucks too much and is making your life miserable, then just stop for a while. Just write, and don’t send out for a while. It does take some courage, and obstinance, to keep throwing things out into the universe and having them come back to you with impersonal little notes.
Thank you, and congratulations!