The fiction editors, Rappahannock Review: What inspired you to write “Waking” and its perspective on the Vietnamese New Year tradition of luck?
Karin C. Davidson: “Waking,” while a story on its own, was written purposely as a very short piece within a longer work, in order to reflect the voice of a Vietnamese girl, while she is quite young. The story takes place before the war in Vietnam, while the rest of the book occurs a world away and while the war is on. I wanted to give a glimpse into Vietnam prior to American military presence, to reveal an innocence, a child’s perspective and understanding of life and luck for the new year. In only a few years, life and luck for this girl and her family will tip sideways.
RR: How much research did you have to do on the Vietnamese New Year and Vietnamese culture in general while writing this piece?
KCD: I read mounds of poetry and prose of Vietnamese-American writers who were of the same generation as the girl in “Waking,” and I found translations of stories by Vietnamese writers, including Nguyen Huy Thiep and Le Minh Khue. I spoke with friends who grew up with the traditions of Tet, looked through photographs, and poured through recipes of meals prepared for the new year. I love the immersion process— learning about people, places, time, traditions, holidays, cooking, flora, and fauna, especially in terms of finding the right voice. And while this is a tiny story, the voice is meant to be large.
RR: The Vietnamese New Year, Tet, is usually associated with the Tet Offensive in the American cultural consciousness. Did this association enter into your decision to frame the story around Tet?
KCD: Yes, that association will stand out for many readers, as the book takes place during the war in Vietnam — the Vietnam War to Americans and, rightly so, the American War to Vietnamese. Looking at this piece separate from the larger work, though — yes, the framework is intentional. Here, a child is open to her world, without knowing what the future holds, the meaning of Tet weighted only in the reader’s mind.
RR: What do you think about more quiet acts of rebellion?
KCD: I believe quiet acts of rebellion are at times more powerful than outright acts, which can hold violence and destruction. An’s act is more of a metaphor, as it is singular and secretive. It doesn’t invite company, but perhaps reflects peaceful revolution like that of Yoko Ono and John Lennon in their bedroom act of “giving peace a chance.”
RR: Your story “Waking” is a piece of flash fiction. How do you perceive flash fiction as a form, particularly in comparison to other experimental forms, such as prose poetry?
KCD: Years ago, I started writing in hybrid, experimental forms, mostly prose poetry. All that was simply warming up to longer forms, mostly the short story. Much later, after grad school and writing stories of thirty-plus pages, I recognized the power of short forms. I love poetry for its purity and beauty. But I mostly love and long for narrative. Flash fiction, especially when twisted with lyricism, answers this longing. “Waking” belongs to a small collection of brief, peripheral stories surrounded by a larger collection of long, principal stories. Another hybrid form in fiction? I don’t think so. Just two lengths I’m working in at the moment, the flash pieces meant as temporal glimpses, brief accompaniments, each with its own discrete voice.
Karin C. Davidson’s work in Issue 2.1: