INTERVIEW WITH SETH KRISTALYN
Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: We love how “Train Wreck at Literary Fields” feels very meta and introduces us to a wide array of characters reflecting across multiple literary genres. Where did this idea of combining different genres and characters within an apartment complex come from? What were the most enjoyable parts crafting this story?
Seth Kristalyn: The first draft of “Train Wreck at Literary Fields” was written eight years ago, and at that time, I was living in an apartment complex that, to me at least, seemed to be way too close to the train tracks coming into town. I often wondered what would happen if a train derailed and hit my building, so I decided to write a story about it. At the same time, I had been developing a growing interest in metafiction and decided that this would be the perfect opportunity to explore that style. In some ways, the apartment complex of Literary Fields simply represents my mind and the characters and stories that live there. The thing I enjoy, and still enjoy most, about this story is the voice. I feel like this is perhaps the first story I wrote that I truly felt like my voice and style was coming through in the way that I wanted it to.
RR: With such a colorful cast of characters, who stuck out the most for you and why?
SK: At the time, Nikolai was really the character that stood out to me the most. I was working on my bachelor’s degree and struggling with my persistent depressive disorder. At the same time, I was trying to manufacture hope for the future. Like Nikolai’s hope to be a hockey player, I wanted to succeed in my goals as a writer. But more specifically, I wanted to love and be loved because I felt incredibly lonely. I was in a state I think of as hopelessness. This nonsense mishmash of suffixes encapsulates the hope, grit, and determination of the future with the echoing chasm of despair found in the present.
RR: When looking into your story, the voice takes on a very whimsical approach, for example the interaction between the author, audience, Whittaker, and Donatello. Were there any influences that helped develop the story’s voice?
SK: As part of an honor’s project in my fiction writing class, I picked up a book, Extreme Fiction: Fabulists and Formalists by Robin Hemley and Michael Martone. I’d always been interested in writing beyond the scope of literary realism and had explored different styles and genres, but this book gave me so many good stories to open up my creativity. Albert’s section in the story is a poor tribute to the mastery of Gabriel García Márquez and magical realism. While it isn’t mentioned in the story, Finn’s section is also loosely influenced by Franz Kafka. John Barth’s “Lost in the Funhouse” was another influence on the story. I’ll let the reader judge whether or not any of those influences are clear in the story, but I can say they were knocking around my head at the time. I’m sure there are others that I subconsciously drew on as well.
RR: We understand from your bio you publish nonfiction. How does writing both nonfiction and fiction affect your approach to both genres?
SK: This is a very interesting question. A few years ago, I read an excerpt from this story for our end-of-year creative writing reading at the community college where I teach. One of my colleagues in the English department asked me afterward whether I thought the story was fiction or creative nonfiction. Until that moment, it had always been metafiction, and that is what I told him. However, that did get me thinking that in some ways, this is creative nonfiction because part of it truly is an exploration of the writing process and creativity in general. To me, the very fine line between the two has to do with truth. In my creative nonfiction, I am telling the truth without the intent to deceive, but in fiction, I am using deception to explore truth. Certainly, that is a little reductive, but I think it stands all right for my general idea on the difference between the two. In reality, I view myself as a fiction writer who has merely dabbled in creative nonfiction. Although to be honest, I have often wondered if some of my fiction is too autobiographical.
RR: Your story gives details and hints of possible future projects involving these characters, for example Mr. Shade. Are there any plans or ideas for the future of Literary Fields and the characters that reside within?
SK: Mr. Shade exists in a story that has not seen the light of day for some time. I love that story, but it just hasn’t developed enough yet. Gordon and Leah are in a story that takes place prior to the events of this one, but that story is also just not very polished at the moment. I’ve had thoughts and ideas about Whittaker and writing his story, but I haven’t put pen to paper yet for that one. Ultimately, I have come to consider “Train Wreck at Literary Fields” Nikolai’s story.
Seth Kristalyn’s work in Issue 9.1: