Interviewed by Heather Cripps
Read Jo Varnish’s fiction piece, Georgina Willis
Heather: I love the collective narration in this piece and the juxtaposition between “her” and “us” in a situation where there should have been solidarity and support. Using “We” as a narrator is often described as hard to sustain. How was your experience writing from a collective point of view? And how did you decide to write it that way?
Jo: I wanted to use the first person plural—my first time trying it—and I also wanted to use patterns of repetition throughout the piece. I hoped to create a sense of predictability to match the girls’ way of thinking and behaving as a group. As is often the case, the subject matter evolved from a real event. I enjoyed writing the collective narration very much as it lends itself to the almost conspiratorial nature of these very closeknit girls.
You do such a good job of making Georgina present but also in the background throughout the whole story. Did you ever consider bringing her voice into the story? Did the piece go through any other drafts where the perspectives were changed?
I didn’t consider bringing Georgina in because I think I was naturally more drawn to the girls’ opinions and their justifications of them. I also wanted to keep that distance between the group and Georgina because they really just had no right to make judgment calls on what may or may not have happened at all. That they didn’t really know her makes that more apparent. This was one of those pieces that I came up with while walking my dog. By the time I got home and pulled my laptop out, I had basically written it in my mind so I really didn’t change it at all. I’m awful at revising (in that I just don’t enjoy it when it’s my own work!) so I really try and do that work on the front end by thinking about what I am going to write a lot before I start. That doesn’t always work, but it’s always my aim!
I love the sense of time in this piece, the past and the future and the present are rolled together effortlessly. How did you manage to achieve this while writing? Did you think it was important to include what actually happened to the girls, and Georgina’s (possible) future?
I am interested in exploring what happens when someone behaves terribly and doesn’t seem to suffer any consequences. I remember learning that a character acting badly must have their reckoning before the end of the story, but I don’t agree. It seems to me that that isn’t how life works, and given that, I like to write about it. I think flash is a wonderful vehicle for breaking these rules and, hopefully, leaving the reader thinking about it. That said, in this story, we have the girls who let themselves off the hook for not being supportive to Georgina back then, and we have the boy in pre-calc going on to live a picture perfect life. I wanted to show that, because, as in the real situation that this story grew from and myriad more like it, that’s what often happens.
Do you have any advice for writers handling rejection?
Mainly chocolate, but it also helps to have a few venues in mind for a story. When a rejection comes in, just send it on to the next place. And then eat the chocolate.
What are you currently working on and where can we read more of your work?
My fiction, creative nonfiction and personal essays are on my website, jovarnish.com. I am currently working on a memoir, but I can’t stay away from flash fiction for too long a stretch.