Five Questions With Sonja Vitow

Will McCarry: The most recent issue of NANO Fiction, 7.1, includes two of your pieces, both about a character named Marisol who comes to live with a new family. You use the second person to tell the story, which is an interesting choice. Do you ultimately see this as Sadie’s story?

IMG_1883Sonja Vitow: Yes, I definitely see this as Sadie’s story. I view Sadie primarily as a very contained, cautious, observational character, and I wanted to use the second person to create an atmosphere of observation that mirrored her experience of Marisol and the new transitions in her life. To me, while the stories focus on Marisol, they’re ultimately about Sadie’s perception of Marisol, and what Sadie’s world looks like with Marisol crashing into it.

WM: In “Marisol Arranges Her Bedroom” Marisol immediately begins knocking down a wall. This creates an effective metaphor as her arrival seems to signal the breaking down of walls in the family unit that has taken her in. The story ends with Sadie agreeing with Marisol that the hole she just created is an improvement. Given that it is doubtful the parents will agree with this sentiment, and Sadie’s admiration of Marisol in both stories, do you see Marisol’s influence on her as a positive one?

SV: Marisol is a sisterly figure for Sadie, which of course means that she will be both a positive influence and a negative influence and everything in between. I don’t think it’s whether the influence is good or bad, but that the influence itself is there. It’s true that Marisol has some destructive behaviors, but Sadie might be the sort of child who needs to be shown that it is possible, if not always advisable, to create a window where there is none. Likewise, I would expect Sadie to have a similarly dynamic impact on Marisol.

WM: Both of these pieces do a good job at dolling out details slowly, never fully revealing the whole scene. We don’t ever explicitly know the relationship between the family and Marisol, and yet, enough details are revealed that we can make a good guess. How do you think the story would be altered, and would it be as powerful, if the relationships were more explicit?

SV: These two pieces are part of a five-story collection called Marisol Moves In; there are more details revealed throughout the other three stories. However, overall I wanted to leave the details of the situation sparse and somewhat disjointed, while making the characters and their interactions more vivid. If the relationships and situation had been more explicit, I fear the story would have lost its closeness to Sadie’s own perception of the events. I chose the perspective and tone so that they would remove distance between the reader and Sadie, hopefully granting the reader access to a closer understanding of Sadie’s process.

WM: Who are the writers (flash fiction or otherwise) that you most admire, and what qualities drew you to their work?

SV: I tend to go for magical realism, and for writers who approach reality in a way that makes me forget I’m not reading fantasy. One of favorite short story collections that does this so well is Tunneling to the Center of the Earth by Kevin Wilson. I also read Karin Tidbeck’s collection Jagannath this year, and was impressed with her eerie blend of total fantasy, science fiction and mythology with gut-wrenching, evocative humanity. Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, Everything is Illuminated stands out in my mind as one of the most impressively crafted books I will ever read again and again and again. I admire his use of language and his word economy. He fits so much into every line without oversaturating. I think my favorite flash fiction writer is Etgar Keret because he’s able to pull off such ambitious concepts in so few words without sacrificing sincerity or meaning.

WM: What else can we look forward to from you in the future, more from Marisol?

SV: I am never really sure what I’m going to write about next…my last two stories were about a tree surgeon and a pickpocket ring, so your guess is as good as mine. I think Marisol has carved her last window for the time being. I am waiting on the Next Great American Novel idea to strike me, and in the meantime am focusing on translations, poetry, and short fiction.

Listen to Sonja’s stories below, or pick up a copy of the issue here.

Sonja Vitow is a fifth-generation Philadelphian lost in the wilds of New England with her husband, two cats, and a museum-quality rubber duck collection. She is a writer and translator whose work can be found in Gulf Coast, Safety Pin Review, Meadowland Review, and Punchnel’s. She is a recipient of the American Academy of Poets Prize, as well as the first place winner of the 2013 Emerson College Graduate Poetry Awards. Her novelette, "Front Porch Crazy," was named a finalist in Glimmer Train's May 2013 Short Story Award for New Writers. With her spare time, Sonja defends the Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltending decisions to judgmental Boston sports fans, nurses a diagnosable Words with Friends addiction, and patiently spells and re-spells her name.