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I’m Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking: An Interview with Leyna Krow

Interview by Samuel Stolton.

Leyna Krow, I’m Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking

(Featherproof Books, 2017).

 

Leyna Krow is the author of the recently published short story collection, I’m Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking, from Featherproof Books. Her works interlace highly personal and familiar contexts with curious and unusual events that expose both the frailties and the strengths of the human condition. Here, she ruminates over the inspiration behind her stories.

3:AM: Many of the stories in your collection feature outlandish objects that appear in everyday contexts. How important are the junctures between the domestic and the fantastical in your writing?

Leyna Krow: Domestic Fabulism is a label that I think is a good fit for the collection. Each story is about either something very odd happening in a normal setting, or something normal happening in an odd setting. It’s a juxtaposition I really like. It’s a way for me to tackle familiar subjects – love, family, death, etc. – in what feels like a new way. Or at least cast them in a new light. Plus, I love writing weird stuff. I’m not super interested in strict realism. I’m actually not that good at writing it. I always feel like I’m just retreading on something someone else has already done better. Or that I’ve written something boring. But by adding in fantastical elements – that’s just more fun for me. I’m pretty much always entertaining myself, first and foremost, when I write.

3:AM: When reading “Tiger, Tiger” incredibly, I already had the image of Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” in my mind’s eye before it was directly referenced to in the text. To how much of an extent has provincial Americana influenced your work?

LK: Not all that much, actually. “Tiger, Tiger,” with its Midwestern setting is a bit of a one-off for me. Not because I’m not interested in that part of the country…just because I don’t know much about it. I’ve lived my entire life on the west coast and that’s the culture that’s most familiar to me. “Tiger, Tiger” takes place in rural Indiana because a friend of mine who is from Indiana once told me about a big cat rescue sanctuary in her home town. I wanted to know how the big cats got to Indiana, much less needed rescuing, and she just shrugged and said “meth heads.” And I thought that would be a great foundation for a story – a protagonist whose meth head neighbor is keeping a tiger in his yard. I was nervous that I wouldn’t get the setting right. I think I was really just grasping for tropes about the place at first, But I had people from the Midwest read it a little later on in the drafting process and they said I’d done all right. So I felt okay about it after that.

3:AM: The most evident theme in the collection is ‘loneliness.’ Do you feel that the modern condition is inseparable from an explicit sense of abandonment?

LK: No, I think that’s David Foster Wallace’s territory, and I’d hate to tread on it. He did it so well already….

I know plenty of people who aren’t lonely. But they also aren’t that interesting. I don’t mean that in a cruel way. I’ve got friends who I would describe as un-lonely and they are great. But I wouldn’t want to read a story about them. I think more than anything loneliness is a catalyst. Because no one wants to stay lonely. So it gives my characters purpose and impetus for change, even if they can’t act on that purpose in particularly effective ways. Plus, I’ve been pretty lonely at certain points in my own life. I was particularly a lonely kid. So there is something gratifying to me about putting that feeling into characters who other people can read and relate to. It’s like saying, “hey, I knew you’d understand, if I just showed you in the right way.”

3:AM: Familial structures often contribute to the formatting of narrative in your prose. Why did you decide to use the ‘family’ as an undercurrent to many of the events that occur?

LK: Relationships are so essential to fiction writing. Every story is just about the disruption of a relationship of some sort or another, right? Familial relationships are by far my favorite kind to write about because they are so layered. Particularly parent-child relationships. We never need anybody more than our parents and we never love anybody more than our children. Or at least that’s the way it should go, but the largeness of those expectations leaves a lot of room for things to go wrong. Which means a lot of different avenues parent-child stories can take. So I keep coming back to those relationships because they can just do so many different things.

3:AM: Squids or Octopi appear ubiquitously throughout “IFBYATBS.” What is it that makes mollusks such provocative literary objects?

LK: They are great literary objects! I think it’s because they are so bizarre it makes them seem almost mythical. Monsters that live in the world with us. What could be better for literature? I think anytime a squid or octopus can be injected into a story, it’s a way of signaling to readers that things are about to take an odd turn. They’re tricky, because they’re real. You haven’t necessarily left reality in a story with a squid. But you know you’re in a weird place. And I think that’s where most of my stories reside – a weird place that could be real…but only just barely.

3:AM:  I found “End Times,” to be one of the most dynamic stories in terms of your treatment of space and time. As to the style of this piece, what was your inspiration behind it?

LK: I wanted to write a story about a woman who could see into the future and knew how the world would end. And also I wanted there to be a cyclical element to it – that some of her knowledge about the future that came from her living her same life over and over again. I’m pretty interested in stories that play with time in different ways as a general rule. But I was surprised by how difficult it was to construct the world in a way that felt plausible without bogging the piece down in logistics. I’m still not sure I ever got it quite right…like, maybe don’t spend too much time thinking about how the narrator’s situation works. You might start poking holes in it. But as long as it’s good enough that you can get by with it and it aids the narrative rather than getting in the way of it, I’ll call that a success.

3:AM: You have elsewhere said that the notion of “fiction science,” informs many of the images and symbols in your work. Could you explicate what you mean by “fiction science” and how you apply it in your writing?

LK: “Fiction Science” is a term that was given to me for my work by another writer, Sharma Shields, and the first time she said it, I was like, “yes, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing!” For me, it means writing stories that are informed by, and hinge upon, elements of science, but the facts and situations behind them are totally of my own making. “End Times” is a good example of that, where the catalyst of the story is this series of environmental catastrophes that are leading up to the apocalypse, and there’s explanations in the story for how they play out. It sounds like science. I want it to sound like science because it’s a way of skewing realism that I think is really fun. Something fantastical packaged up to look as if its not.

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER
Samuel Stolton is a Literary Reviewer and Editor living in Bologna, Italy. He is a co-editor at 3:AM Magazine.

First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, July 1st, 2017.