Interviewed by Sommer Schafer

Read A.H. Fatima’ fiction piece, The Mite in My Left Eye

Sommer: As a fan of horror and gothic stories, I love the mite-in-the-eye scene. It’s so horrifyingly visceral, which makes it outstanding. If you had decided to shy away from the horror of it—to not dive down into the ugly details—it would have been so much less effective and moving. On the other hand, I understand how this kind of scene could have the potential to descend into kitsch. You, however, succeed in creating something truly cringe-worthy that also resonates psychologically and emotionally. Were you aware of walking that fine line, and how did you determine how much creative control to maintain over the growing mite so that it didn’t usurp the scene or story?

A. H.: I was aware of walking that line, yes, but I wasn’t quite sure I hadn’t crossed it, so I appreciate your compliment! When describing more literal scenes like this one, I think of the horror media I enjoy most; for instance, all my favorite films of the genre work with downplayed themes of horror instead of gaudy jump scares. When I was writing this scene, I tried to imagine seeing it in a movie someone else made. At what point would I feel like the filmmaker was sacrificing the plot for shock value? That’s where the mite had to stop growing.

We never explicitly find out who the “you” is in this story, and though we know “you” was abusive of the narrator, we don’t know exactly the nature of the relationship. I like how this shows that we don’t need to know the facts in order to understand the sentiments or psychological depths of a character or story. When crafting a story, how do you negotiate that balance between providing essential information and developing the plot, which is the story’s depth and meaning? Or in other words, how do you negotiate what to leave off the page?

I actually try to leave as much off the page as I can without descending into lazy-writer-territory because I don’t enjoy writing stories that need to explain themselves in order to work. I think this is why I enjoy the short story medium so much—it allows me to create a narrative without having to oversell its plot or themes. It also leaves room for just a little ambiguity in the story, enough for readers to perhaps be able to project their own experiences onto it.

That being said, I don’t hold myself back when writing a story initially—I trim it down afterwards, which sometimes takes longer than the writing itself! I usually distance myself from a story once I’ve written it, sometimes for days and sometimes for weeks, so that I can come back with a clearer perspective and delete unnecessary details. I then repeat this process until I come back to a story that needs no further trimming.

I have mixed feelings about the mother. The narrator loves their mother’s dresser because “it used to be hers,” and does eventually save it from mites. Yet, the mother also seems to be the source of so much harm regarding the narrator’s ability to love themself and be with someone who gives love. There’s also something there about the mother wanting a fantasy (the white horse, untired skin), instead of real life. My favorite part of this story is how the narrator finally lets go of that white horse at the end, moving beyond where the mother was ever able to go. So, it seems there are two relationships being mulled over here (the one with the mother and the one with “you”), and by the end of the story, both go in entirely different directions (accepting the mother, getting over “you”). When you were developing these relationships, did they come to you somewhat linked, and was this a particular difficulty? Or am I entirely off!

I think motherhood is so complex and often messy that even the most perfect mothers aren’t incapable of doing harm to their children at some point. But I also think it’s difficult to hate a parent for being imperfect, even when they’ve hurt you. I also believe that our relationships with our parents shape how we love others and how we allow ourselves to be loved. The narrator’s relationships are based on all these things and they did come linked to me—both relationships are rooted in trauma bonding, self-doubt, and a constant need to prove themself.

The narrator lets go of these relationships in the end, but have they let go of their tendency to be drawn into relationships of the same nature in the future, or will they spend the rest of their life smoking in the dark at 3am with someone else’s bitter taste in their mouth? I can’t answer this question, but maybe one of my readers can. After all, stories belong to the people who read and enjoy them as much as the people who write them.

How do you find inspiration and what keeps you writing?

I used to struggle with finding inspiration, which sucked because it made writing feel like a chore. Over a year ago, a friend introduced me to Transcendental Meditation as a means to a clearer head, and since then I’ve been practicing it twice, sometimes thrice, a day. The practice itself feels so natural to me, and it seems to bring inspiration with it. I don’t feel the need to actively look for inspiration anymore. Sounds like such a cliché, doesn’t it? Like saying that the sky and the stars make me want to write, or that ideas come to me in dreams, but they really do now! Sometimes I feel so full to the brim with ideas that it seems as though I’ll burst if I don’t put them on paper, and that’s what keeps me writing.

Thank you for doing this with me, and congratulations!

Thank you for having me, and for such interesting questions!