Interviewed by Sarah Starr Murphy
Read Carmen Price’s fiction piece, Crème de Menthe
Sarah: Stories about grandmothers and granddaughters are somewhat rare. What made you decide to put the focus there, instead of on a mother-daughter relationship, or even the sexual relationship that’s tucked into the middle of the piece? Why aren’t there more stories about grandmothers and granddaughters?
Carmen: The older I get, the more inspired I feel by my own grandmothers and great-grandmothers, all of whom are now gone, all of whom I miss, all of whom I would’ve liked to have spent more time with as an adult. With this story I wanted to explore a complex grandmother—a woman who perhaps hasn’t lived up to the stereotype of being all-comforting or self-sacrificing. Perhaps this is inspired by my own grandmothers; they were all very complex women with hopes and dreams and flaws, full of wisdom and kindness as well as anxieties and fears and blindspots to the needs of others. I think we need to read about more grandmothers like that in fictional worlds.
De-centering the sexual relationship was meant to stress the importance of the grandmother-granddaughter relationship—to my mind, that was the most emotionally important and interesting aspect of the story.
The image of a middle-aged cat dragging home tattered books of stoic philosophy is funny and striking. The animals are an essential part of the story, and they never become cutesy or overwhelm the narrative. Do you write about animals often? How do you go about integrating them in a way that isn’t sappy?
Funnily enough, everyone who knows me would tell you that I’m definitely not an animal person. Like, nothing personal, I’m just not that into them. But I’ve always found the moral implications of the relationship between humans and animals fascinating. I believe animals are in many ways observers of the human world that humans tend to underestimate. And from a scientific vantage point that I’m in absolutely no way qualified to speak on, humans are technically animals (right?). Whether or not you believe that humans are animals, though, it’s hard to argue with the fact that humans always seem to try and find a way of setting themselves apart from the rest of the animal world. I think exploring that conceptual divide makes for a good story, and at this point, all the short stories I’ve written have an animal playing a central role. As far as keeping them from being too sappy, I think I just try and keep them from being over the top, and obviously I cognitively anthropomorphize them, but I’m not always sure that’s a good thing… I think it’s hard to explain!
There’s a hidden rupture in this piece, an unspecified falling out where the Granddaughter and Grandmother lose touch. Did you always intend to leave the reason unspoken?
I think it’s pretty common nowadays to parse every single detail of every situation, Tweet, Instagram post, or falling out/failed relationship, etc. That can be an important thing to do, whether in art or real life, but I also think that being vague can be artistically meaningful. Thus, knowing everything about why the Grandmother and Granddaughter lost touch didn’t seem like the right choice to make in this story.
Both women experiment with ways of understanding the world. Visualizing, therapy, philosophy, relationships, cloistered Catholicism—they really run the gamut. Might the Granddaughter try writing fiction next? If so, what advice would you give her?
If the Granddaughter were to try out writing fiction, my advice would be get ready to fail when trying to write the kind of stories you think people will like or that will make people like you, and then keep on going until your stories represent what’s really inside you—what you really feel you need to get out on paper, or screen, even if nobody likes it or only one other person likes it. I think that the best fiction is the most honest version of the story the author wanted to tell. And not everybody has to like it.
What are you reading at the moment? Or, what was the last book you read that you really loved?
Given the times we’re living in, I’m currently reading The Plague by Albert Camus. I find it both cathartic and upsetting.
Congratulations, and thank you for doing this interview!