Five Questions With Rochelle Hurt
Will McCarry: Your piece “Relentless” appears in our most recent issue of NANO Fiction, 7.1. I felt that the metaphor of the mime was a great way to set up the fact that the father shuts out the family and does not interact with them. However, at the end it is stated that the father has finally locked himself out of his box. This leads me to believe that the father is an actual mime. Is this the case, or is the whole thing totally metaphorical?
Rochelle Hurt: My conception of the father as a mime was metaphorical, but I did turn toward ambiguity at the end (as I usually do), so I think an argument can be made for both interpretations. Perhaps the final shift toward a literal conception is also my way of asking what happens to us when we become trapped inside (or maybe in this case outside) the metaphors we make for ourselves.
WM: It seems to me that there is a certain dark comedic element to this piece. Lines such as these: “Relentless, his invisible knife. The dog drools, hypnotized” and “Sometimes my mother wakes to an O, his mouth like a hurricane’s eye” have a certain comedy to them, especially since they are about a mime, whose apparent purpose in the real world is to entertain. In what way do the humorous elements aid a heavy, dark piece such as this?
RH: I’ve heard many tips and formulas for balancing light and dark elements in one’s writing, but ‘balance’ indicates to me an ameliorative action—rounding and dulling the edges in a story so that no single emotion is too sharp or overpowering. However, I think (as you suggest in your question) that the use of opposite emotional elements can have an intensifying effect: the light and the dark aggravate each other until they begin to buzz and pull like magnets. Hopefully, in a piece like this, the combination of humor and sadness also muddies a reader’s emotional reaction and prevents a one-dimensional experience.
WM: Your piece walks a line between reality and ambiguity that I think is successful. At NANO, we think a lot about how various authors approach the form of flash fiction. For you, what helps to make a successful flash piece?
RH: Thanks. This is something I feel I am constantly learning and relearning. Each time I finish a piece of flash fiction (or a prose poem), I think that I’ve discovered the key. Then I write another, decide that I was wrong about the key, and discover the real key—so on and so forth. It’s a slippery genre. Currently, I’ve been thinking that, like poetry, flash fiction lends itself to a lyrical structure—a focus on an idea, image, or metaphor, rather than a cause-and-effect (narrative) chain of events. The way that you frame your question also makes me think of the form/content relationship in hybrid genre work. Perhaps content that walks a line (between reality and ambiguity, or between literal events and metaphor, for example) works especially well in flash pieces because the form already wants to blur genre boundaries (between fiction and poetry, for example).
WM: Who are the writers (flash fiction or otherwise) that you most admire, and what qualities drew you to their work?
RH: Kathryn Davis is a novelist I’ve come to admire for the difficulty of her work; it’s very smart, a little ambiguous, and always rewarding once you find a way in.
Also: though they publish work labeled differently, Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum (fiction) and Sabrina Orah Mark (prose poetry) both create fabulist or magical work that crosses genre lines in many interesting ways—including the use of the flash form to build book-length works.
Carol Guess is another great hybrid genre writer. I am always impressed by how musical her prose poems are. Some prose poems seem to lose the music of lineated verse, but not hers.
Lastly, Julio Cortázar: his Cronopios and Famas is full of strange flash pieces that play with light and dark tones to create entirely new dimensions of feeling.
WM: What are you working on now?
RH: Mostly, I’m in editing mode: I’m in the final editing processing for a forthcoming collection of linked prose poems, The Rusted City (White Pine, 2014), and I’ve been revising a second (unpublished) collection of poems. Also, studying mode: I’m starting a PhD program in English and Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati this fall.
Listen to Rochelle’s story below or pick up a copy here.