Five Questions with JoAnna Novak

Kirby Johnson: Your story, “Crepuscule,” in issue 8.1 of NANO Fiction is a perfect example of how a flash piece can be beautifully dreamy and nostalgic while seamlessly working in surreal moments of precise action through language and sentence structure. I feel like this weaving has a lot to do with your utilization of the list alongside short impactful sentences within the story. Can you tell our readers a little bit about your writing process and if you think about these kind of language structures when you write?

photoJoAnna Novak: Most of my writing is generated in a kind of breathless sprint that is very much propelled by structures like lists, qualities like musicality, devices like image. I love catalogues and inventories and the charged numbness of perusal, but I’m also always policing my indulgences: perhaps precise action is an antidote? For some reason, I think of the short sentence as the list’s opposite, though I question that logic since lists are often strings of what could pass for short sentences.

One thing I do pay attention to, I think, on kind of a circadian level, is rhythm and sound’s abilities to govern mood. Hard consonants—those are my weakness.

KJ: You display substantial knowledge of rabbits and chocolate mold making in your piece. Did this come from personal experience, or was it mostly gained through research?

JN: I worked in a few fine-dining kitchens, first as a pastry cook and then as a pastry chef. Sometimes, for mignardises—gratis, post-dessert treats—I made rolled truffles, which involved tempering, but I’ve never molded chocolate into animals. Candy is a different world! I did look at some antique chocolate forms while writing this story.

As for rabbits, I know very little: a few vocab words and feeding habits.

KJ: What, for you, makes for a successful flash piece?

JN: Flash fictions are so versatile—maybe that’s why I love them. I’m attracted to both straightforward narratives and more surrealistic stories so long as the voice is throttling. There needs to be a swift gut-punch, linguistic or emotional.

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

JN: Vladimir Nabokov and J.D. Salinger were important to me from a young age; they remain so, Nabokov especially. I read him with a notebook and a dictionary at hand, just totally humbled. Ada, or Ardor is my favorite, though I couldn’t tell you much of anything that takes place in the novel: my experience of reading it was: June, July, swelter, illicitness, velvet mood, endangered words.

Is “Alma” by Junot Diaz short enough to be flash? I’m not sure, but that’s one of my favorite stories of all time. He’s one of my favorite writers—and thinkers. Gary Lutz, Evan S. Connell, Mary Robison, Jayne Anne Phillips, Lydia Davis, Mary Gaitskill, Joy Williams: singular voices, often formally and stylistically daring.

KJ:  What are you working on now?

JN: A couple short stories. An essay on frosting. And a novel—of which “Crepuscule” happens to be the first chapter.

JoAnna Novak is the Pushcart-Prize-nominated author of two chapbooks: Laps (Another New Calligraphy, 2014) and Something Real (dancing girl press, 2011). A finalist for Sarabande's Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and a nominee for Best New Poets 2014, she is co-publisher and editor of Tammy. She lives in Massachusetts, where she's working on a memoir and a novel.