Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: We love how “Trash Mammal” cohesively ties together its plot and characters. How did you go about balancing these two elements? 

Sebs Corrigan:  I wish I had a good answer for this, but I don’t plan or storyboard what I am going to write. I just write one page at a time until I feel it’s finished (or a due date tells me it needs to be finished). In general, I tend to really focus on characters and let the plot flow from them. Usually this means the plot gets moved to the back-burner, and I have a character study more than a fully fleshed out story. Because I was originally submitting this for a workshop, I did have moments where I would stop and say, “I need to put more plot in or workshop won’t go well,” but I didn’t have a specific percentage that I was aiming for. 

RR: We were drawn in by the incredibly emotional and relatable narrative of this piece. What drew you to format your story as a series of journal entries?

SC: I took a poetry seminar focused on journaling. We all kept a journal and would submit pages every few weeks. During a discussion of my pages, the poetry professor asked if my fiction was written in the same way that I journaled. My fiction (until this piece) was the complete opposite of how I journaled, so he suggested I try writing fiction like I journaled. Since I had no other ideas for what to submit for my workshop piece later that month, I decided to give it a try.

RR:Your story is full of hyper-realistic emotions; how do you go about translating complex emotional experiences such as these into writing?

SC: I think it’s the journal format itself more than anything I consciously did. When trying to write  traditional literary fiction, I get very hung up on using proper grammar and complete sentences, so knowing that I was writing something that could be “non-professional” allowed me to relax and just write. 

RR: You mentioned in your cover letter to us that this work came out of your MFA coursework. We’re wondering if this story came from a specific prompt and if so, which prompt? If not, how did this idea come to you?

SC: No specific prompt, just a desperate need to submit something for my workshop. If anything, I wrote this as a rebellion against my fiction professor because he was a big believer in short stories ending with epiphanies. I am firmly against epiphanies just for the sake of having them. I feel like if you end your story with an epiphany out of structural obligation, then you’re damaging the integrity of the story. I wanted “Trash Mammal” to feel relatable to others who have struggled with the issues that Rowan has in the story. The unfortunate reality is that not everyone with mental health issues has positive experiences with the standard treatment of therapy and medication. Even though Rowan is doing everything “right,” they are still suffering. I don’t want to sound like I am against therapy or medications, because I am not, but I do think we need to understand that they are not cures. They are treatments, and sometimes treatments don’t work like they are supposed to. If I ended the story with an epiphany, like Rowan realizing they needed to have a positive outlook on their life or that they just needed to keep suffering through a cycle of meds until eventually one worked, then I wouldn’t be accurately representing what it’s like to feel the way Rowan does and what it’s like living with those feelings. And just to give credit to my fiction professor, he did say that this story works without the epiphany because raw human emotion is always stronger than story structure.

RR: If you could identify as a “trash mammal,” which one would you be?

SC: Other than the one I am as a human being? An opossum. I have a tattoo of one; his name is Milford. (See attached image)


Read “Trash Mammal” by Sebs Corrigan in Issue 11.1