The Fiction editors, Rappahannock Review: “Tidal Volume” is a work of fiction, but we know that you also write poetry. How do you decide which genre would be most amenable to a particular piece? Do you ever explore the same idea extensively in both genres?
Carla Kirchner: When I want to explore an idea or image, I choose poetry; when I want to explore an event, I choose fiction. “Tidal Volume” draws from the real-life experience of my father’s hospitalization. I’ve written poems about grief over his illness and eventual passing, but this is the only piece that contains the event of his death. My poems and stories often deal with the same themes, but rarely do they explore the same subject matter.
RR: The second person narrative of “Tidal Volume,” is executed in a way that makes the reader feel intimately involved in the events of the story. What made you decide to frame your story this way? Did you have any concerns using this format?
CK: I wrote the first draft of “Tidal Volume” in the second person point of view; it seemed to flow naturally from this perspective. Sometimes second person can seem “gimmicky,” but I think it works well in this story because it is not only intimate and inviting but it also creates more emotional distance than the first person point of view. I tried a draft of this story in first person, but it quickly became overly sentimental because I was too close to the material, and so was the “I” of my narrator.
RR: Many writers have specific rituals in their writing process What are some of your rituals?
CK: I don’t have any specific rituals, but I believe that a writer should understand his/her writing process. I don’t journal or write every day, but when I do sit down to write, I know what drafting and revision practices work best for me.
RR: As an English professor, you have experience with different types of writing, especially that of young writers. What advice do you give them if they want to enter the creative writing field?
CK: I suggest that beginners write widely in multiple genres. I want my students to question the definitions we have of genre: Is this text a prose poem or piece of flash fiction? What can a poem do that a story can’t? Why is story a better vehicle for this experience than verse? My own writing history has been one of cross-genre work. I started my creative writing life in graduate school as a poet and essayist. After teaching college composition classes for several years, I decided I wanted to write fiction, so I enrolled in an MFA program that allowed me to work in multiple genres. There is no doubt that I’m a better fiction writer for being a poet, and my poetry improved when I started writing fiction. Writing in different genres has helped me to define genre, understand the craft required for each, and realize my identity as a writer.
RR: The collection of Civil War fairy tales you are currently working on is an interesting concept. Could you tell us a bit about this project? We’re particularly interested in learning if these are all original stories or if you based them on any folklore from that time period?
CK: My collection of fairy tales tells the story of Private Artie Pendragon of the 16th Mississippi Infantry. A few of the stories are retellings of both well-known and more obscure tales. Many of the tales are original, though they do allude to and draw from the European and American fairy tale traditions. I’ve fallen in love with the fairy tale form because I think it combines the best of poetry and fiction. As with a poem, the fairy tale’s condensed nature means that every word matters. Poetry points to the miraculous underneath the skin of the common and everyday; fairy tale assumes that magic is an ordinary part of life. Fairy tales are highly symbolic and sometimes allegorical. They appear simple and simplistic on the surface but are full of complexities and lend themselves well to explorations of politics, social hierarchy, and cultural change.
Carla Kirchner’s work in Issue 4.1: