Interview with Kris Faatz

Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: We really enjoyed the uniqueness of the central metaphor of “Spiderweb” and how it conveys a struggle with mental health. How do you approach telling a familiar subject in a new way?

Kris Faatz: I usually “back my way” into the subjects of my stories, rather than setting out to write about any particular topic, and I think that can help create a fresh take. When I’m working on a story, a character and/or an image usually comes first (character for longer fiction, image for flash). Then, as I experiment with that initial idea, deeper subjects emerge. With “Spiderweb,” I started with the image of a web made of glass. As I worked out how the web was made, and how my protagonist experienced it, the mental health analogy came in. At the same time, I didn’t want the web to be “just” a metaphor; I wanted to hold out the suggestion that the nocturnal spider was a piece of magic intersecting with the real world.

RR: This piece, and many of your others, are less than five-hundred words; what draws you to the form of flash fiction? 

KF: I love the challenge of creating a whole story in a tiny space. Conversely, I also love writing novels, and I think the discipline of flash strengthens my longform writing. It makes me think about the precise meaning of each word and keeps me honest about when I’ve said enough.

RR: On your website, you mention you love hiking and being outdoors. Is there a specific location that has impacted your writing?

KF: Absolutely, in a couple of different ways. About ten years ago, my husband and I took a trip to northwestern Spain and did a lot of hiking in the mountains and on the coast. We both fell in love with that part of the world, and its geography and history became the seed for my second novel, Fourteen Stones. I started working on the novel during that trip. It’s a fantasy, so I had the fun of building a fictional world, and I drew heavily on parts of Galicia and Asturias in that process. Fourteen Stones was released in 2022 in New Zealand and will be released here in the US this June.

Closer to home, my husband and I go down to Maryland’s Eastern Shore as often as we can. It’s one of our favorite areas, especially Assateague Island and Tuckahoe State Park. Hiking is one of my biggest ways to recharge mentally and make space for creativity, especially if I can take in some water views along the way. I’ve done a lot of story sketching and pondering at the Eastern Shore. Likewise at Loch Raven Reservoir in Baltimore County, Maryland, whose trail system is a hiking home base for my husband and me.

RR: We saw you have a second novel coming out this year; exciting! Can you talk about how you approach longer form work and how you might think about the audience for that versus your flash work?

KF: I love working on novels. It’s profoundly grounding to have a big project to tap into all the time. Character is always the most important element for me in a novel: I have to fall in love with at least one character so I can make the long-term commitment to their story. Usually, I know who one or more of my protagonists will be, and I start by getting to know them, writing sketches and scenes that may never make it into the final book. I imagine my characters doing everyday things with family and friends, to see how they act, what they say, what kinds of decisions they make. I’m especially interested in their formative years, so I’ll often sketch them as children, even if the novel doesn’t include much of that part of their lives.

While I’m doing this preparation, I also try to get a sense of the big shape of the novel itself, what general story elements it might include, and roughly what timeframe it might cover in my protagonists’ lives. I don’t like to have any particular road map. For me, it works better to find a potential starting moment, something with enough momentum to make it fun to write about, write that scene, and then see where the big story wants to go from there.

Audience-wise: I have to admit this isn’t something I think about much! I write the stories I want to dig into and live with, whether for days or weeks or years. If people like to read the end results, that’s always a wonderful surprise. Style-wise, I’ve become a literary writer who likes to bring twists of magic in as often as possible, so readers who like that kind of story will find it in most of my work.

RR: What would be your top four favorite books of all time?

KF: So many books; it’s tough to narrow it down! Richard Adams’s Watership Down was a huge influence when I was a kid, and did a lot to make me a writer. Other favorites are Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row, and Terry Pratchett’s Night Watch.

Read “Spiderweb” by Kris Faatz in Issue 11.2