Five Questions with Allie Marini Batts
Will McCarry: Your piece “Snakebite” appears in our most recent issue of NANO Fiction, 6.2. We get a lot of submissions about snakes at NANO, and many of them feature very satisfied characters maliciously chopping the creatures into little bits. Your piece takes a different standpoint, one of sadness in the face of the snake’s death. What is your experience with these misunderstood creatures, and what do you hope readers take away from the piece?
Allie Marini Batts: I’m really glad you asked that. Recently, I was in Los Angeles for my bi-annual MFA residency, and I was explaining to a friend that in North Florida (and I suppose Florida in general!) you’re never more than three feet away from a snake at any given time…whether you know it or not. I think that snakes are really misunderstood—I mean, from Biblical times onward, they’ve been given a bad rap, and in addition to being really beautiful & graceful animals, they’re a vital part of any ecosystem that keep the populations of smaller animals in check. They may not be as “cute & cuddly” as other animals, but they’re every bit as important to nature and they have a right to be there. That said, it’s equally important to have a healthy respect for them. While it’s possible to tell venomous from non-venomous breeds, you don’t always have the time to err on the side of the snake. If you have to think fast, sometimes the snake suffers—but that’s where it’s up to us, as humans, to honor them and their place. We intruded on their territory—and while it’s true, a copperhead can’t live where humans live—it’s hardly their fault for being there. I hope that readers in urban areas, where they might not often see snakes, will come away from the piece with a little compassion for the snakes. I hope that rural readers, who might see them more frequently, will identify with both the narrator and Bobby, and see a bit of their own experience out in nature depicted with more accuracy than is often given the subject. Overall—I hope the piece reminds readers to shuffle their feet when they’re out hiking, look at the ground before they put their foot down, and give a snake the time to slither off, before taking off their head. Maybe even take a picture from a safe distance.
WM: At the end of the piece Bobby and the narrator bury the snakehead underground. What kind of metaphor are you exploring here with this act?
AMB: Realistically, it’s what a responsible person does with a snake head that they think might be venomous. “Snakebite” is more than just a piece of flash-fiction; it’s also a brief field guide to what to do if you encounter a snake. The jaws of a pit viper really can continue to strike after being severed from the body—so on the skin of the story, it’s a quick reminder to be responsible. The subtext is to show a snake proper respect. The body can (and in my opinion, should) be left out to continue the natural cycle, and feed other scavengers, decompose and nourish the soil and plants. But other animals (or wayward humans) shouldn’t be put at risk, either. And more than anything, a snake you’ve had to kill out of necessity isn’t a trophy to be taken. So that’s the overt and covert reasoning behind the choice to bury the snake’s head. It’s taking the appropriate precautions, and giving the snake what’s akin to a proper burial.
WM: Here at NANO, we think a lot about how various authors approach the form of flash fiction. For you, what makes a successful flash piece?
AMB: When I read flash fiction, or any fiction in general, I want to enjoy the story or vignette I’ve been presented with, and to have that story stay with me. In a lot of publications, there’s a lot to be said about “pushing new boundaries,” but I’m a believer in the famous words of George Harrison by way of the Beastie Boys: “There’s only 12 notes that a man can play.” Since every writer is sort of constrained by a finite amount of stories and plot combinations, for me, what’s key is the wording and the pleasure of reading a piece. Though I’m sure I could have used a vast combination of different words to construct “Snakebite,” than the ones I chose, I felt that for this piece, plain language and a straightforward story would make the piece memorable. Luckily for me, the editors of NANO agreed with that choice.
WM: Though context clues may lead readers to believe that the narrator in this story is female, it is never expressly mentioned. Is there a reason that the narrator’s gender is unspecified?
AMB: You know, this question sort of threw me, to be honest, and it made me take another look at the piece—so I really appreciate your asking me that. There was a draft of the story where the narrator’s gender was made clear—and during the editorial process on the way to publication, the NANO editors asked if I would be willing to cut the line. I wasn’t particularly attached to the line and agreed with their opinion that in such a brief piece, every line should be there for a reason, and since it wasn’t a line that broke my heart to part with, it was clear that the line didn’t have a function in the piece. What’s funny is that without that one line, it hadn’t even occurred to me that the gender of the narrator wasn’t ever stated. So what I take away from the question (and my answer to it) is this: The gender of the narrator isn’t actually what’s important in “Snakebite.” Whether or not the speaker is Bobby’s girlfriend, hiking buddy, or younger sibling/cousin isn’t the thing that’s most important here. What’s important is that Bobby is comfortable and confident around snakes, takes no pleasure in killing a snake out of necessity, teaches the narrator how to correctly identify and dispose of pit vipers, and consoles the speaker for the guilt they feel at the snake’s death. The issue isn’t the speaker’s gender; it’s their experience of realizing that nature is a whole lot bigger than they are.
WM: What else can we look forward to from you in the future?
AMB: I’ve recently published my first poetry chapbook with ELJ Publications, You Might Curse Before You Bless, which is available through Amazon, and I have a 2nd chapbook, Unmade & Other Poems, forthcoming from Beautysleep Press. I’m at the half-way mark of finishing my MFA degree in creative writing at Antioch University Los Angeles, with a dual concentration in fiction and poetry. Off the top of my head, I know that I have a book review forthcoming at The Rumpus, poems forthcoming at Vine Leaves Literary Journal, Meat for Tea: The Valley Review, Scissors & Spackle, and The Sacramento Poetry Center’s Tule Review, and fiction either recently published or forthcoming at Conclave: A Journal of Character, FlashFlood, Ezra: An Online Journal of Translation, and Anassa Press’ Second Chance anthology (that piece features a leatherback turtle!) And it goes without saying—hopefully you’ll see more of my work at NANO Fiction in the future! Thanks so much for asking such thought-provoking questions. I really enjoyed thinking about them, and seeing things in my work that I hadn’t considered before.