Interviewed by John Haggerty
Read Kate Finegan’s fiction piece, And Even Still the Conch
John: I love how much you were able to do with so little in this piece. In just a few sentences you’ve evoked a real sense of longing and loss. Did this piece arrive more or less in this form, or did it start as something bigger that you edited down?
Kate: This piece is from my forthcoming chapbook with Sonder Press, Ablaze, which mostly consists of very short flash fiction and prose poetry pieces exploring what might remain in the wake of environmental catastrophe. For the “longer” pieces, I consistently used an eleven-part structure, so yes—this piece did basically emerge in its final form! Playing with an established structure was grounding and allowed me to focus on the words and ideas, more than how they would be presented on the page.
As something of a maximalist myself, I am always impressed by writers who can do more with less. How do you know when enough is enough?
That’s such a tough question because I also write longer short stories and novel manuscripts. But I think that with very short works, I tend to go into them with the goal of capturing a feeling more than anything else. I’m interested in the way you can be walking down the street, see a stranger or a squirrel or whatever for a split-second, and be left with a feeling that follows you around all day. That’s what I’m going for with shorter works, and often the editing process is about scratching out as many words as possible so that feeling is distilled to its barest essence.
The image of the cat suspended precariously above the bath wonderfully captures the feeling of being just a small misstep away from disaster. Can we take this as a metaphor for life? That if we abandon our delusions, we spend all of our time with cats suspended perilously above our bathwater? And what is the best way to live with this knowledge?
There’s the cat as a metaphor for disaster, but also the cat as a metaphor for wonder. After all, the cat is drawn to the water out of wonder, and that’s something powerful, too. Dangerous, but powerful. But yes, I do think there are always cats suspended perilously above our bathwater, and yes, these could be wonder or disaster, but they can also make us laugh with all their efforts, and I guess maybe the best way to live with this knowledge is just that—to laugh, or to give up the bathwater altogether and go read on the couch, where the cat can snuggle against you, maybe only for this moment. A willingness to lay plans aside and embrace what’s pawing at you can be a powerful antidote to despair.
I like to think that the sound of everything is always available to us, if only we knew how to hear it. Do you think this is true?
I think everything is a malleable entity. Sometimes everything is as simple as the perfect cup of coffee. But sometimes the trouble is that we hear everything, all at once, and it’s too big and too much and we miss all that we ever had and didn’t have and might never get. Everything is a slippery word. But the sweetest moments are when everything seems like almost nothing, it’s so little.