Meg Pokrass interviews Kyle Hemmings about his stories in New Micro (W.W. Norton & Co., 2018) and about the craft of writing microfiction.
MP: In Father Dunne’s School for Wayward Boys #1, your first sentence grounds the reader, these “wayward boys” are prisoners of a system that can only derange them. You say, in that first line, that they are both “special boys” and that they wish to be crucified. Each sentence serves us up a contradiction, and the complexity grows. Can you tell us anything about the writing of this piece?
KH: Well, for me this came easy as I went through 12 years of Catholic schools. I remember the feelings and tensions of being forced to pray to something you don’t quite believe and having so much pushed down your throat that it takes you so much time to gain your own identity if at all. And there was all this oversimplified dichotomy of devils vs angels, pagans vs. virgins. Of course, it’s not as simple as just a prison camp for boys. The old proctor in the piece brought a smile to my face as there was a nice priest whom I had remembered back from grammar school. This piece, by the way, was part of a collection of similar pieces called, “Father Dunne’s School for Wayward Boys.” Published by Hammer & Anvil.
MP: Your last line, “We were expelled into the next life” has to be one of my favorite closing lines of all time. Can you talk about endings? How does a writer land a story? How do we know if we’ve nailed it?
KH: I think it depends on the story. Some stories called for a “softer” ending, something that stays with the reader, something the reader must keep pondering because there is no sure answer to the story’s problem. In my piece, I felt the line was “right” to end the story on, with all its implications of religion, punishment, excommunication.
MP: “Supergirl” is beautiful. There is a ruined child’s understanding of the world here that you engage and charm the reader with. There is the confirmation that romantic love is a myth. I love the term you use here, “everyday tragic”. The ending leaves the reader breathless. Anything you can tell us about the writing of Supergirl, anything at all?
KH: I was thinking of the failure of an old romance of mine. And how things can continue on but never in an ideal way. And I thought: why not make the female character a one-time celebrity? It might add to the pathos.
MP: How do memories and images from childhood inform our voices as adult writers if they do? Please describe how you draw on memories from childhood in fiction.
KH: There are very specific times in childhood that I draw from. They’re either my favorite memories or ones that stuck with me because of the friends I had at the time, the impression they made on me. It gets harder and harder to draw upon the sensory impressions of that time, the smells, the sights, the memory of a pudgy girl in a catholic uniform and skirt because it was so long ago. And there was grammar school with the nuns, and that informed a good deal of my childhood as my life back then revolved around school and playing kickball on the streets. At times, I wished it could have gone on forever. But I must confess, I often don’t pick childhood to draw memories from (except in cases like Father Dunne’s…). I often draw from a different era of my life, the times I spent as a young adult, a lost floundering soul. But that’s another story.
MP: Any tips for tackling revision? How much revision is necessary for you with your very short pieces?
KH: Because the pieces are short, I have to revise line by line, phrase by phase, as if with a microscope. It’s almost like what one does with poetry. There are things such as tone, and detail that have to be right.
MP: When writing microfiction, do you begin the way you would when writing a longer short story, or a poem, or a novel? What is different? What is the same?
KH: I think the beginning, at least for me, is the same. Usually, I don’t have a clear map of where to go. If I feel the piece is good as a short standalone, then it’s done for the most part. But if I see room for development and that development is necessary, then it grows into a longer story.
MP: Who are your favorite writers of the form?
KH: Paul Beckman, Robert Scotelarro, Meg Pokrass. And Hemmingway.
MP: Kylek thank you! You know that I’m a huge fan of your writing, so that means a lot to me.
How do you get going when feeling uninspired? How do you attack the blank page?
KH: If I don’t feel inspired, I wait. I wait for the muse (or whatever you call it). Or I’ll have another cup of coffee and turn on some 60s garage rock.
MP: A novel, a micro, and a poem go to a bar together. What happens?
KH: The poem leaves first because it can’t stand the flat language and narrow vision of the other two. The novel tries to buy the micro a beer in an effort to keep the micro to listen longer, but the micro is so bored with the novel’s non-ending storyline. The novel is left at the bar talking to the bartender until the bartender gives him a free drink and says “You know I think you got a story there.” The novel goes home, revises, and incorporates the advice of micro, poem and the bartender.
MP: You are a visual artist as well. Can you tell us how the two art forms balance each other (writing and visual art) if you find they do?
KH: I do haiga, which are pictures with haikus. One compliments the other, or provides an interesting contrast, which gives the reader a sense of going beyond what is in front of him or her. I think each form provides an inspiration for the other.
MP: What are you doing now? What is next?
KH: Right now, I am taking a rest. Editor Shloka Shankar of the fine zine, Sonic Boom, will be getting ready soon, to begin my mixed genre collection of ku, prose and photos called Schizoid Tendencies. It should be out by early next year.