Monday Chat is a new bi-weekly series in which Susan Tepper has a conversation with a Fictionaut writer about one of his or her stories. For this first installment, Susan talked to Kathy Fish about her story “Snow.” Susan is Assistant Editor of Istanbul Literary Review and hosts FIZZ, a reading series at KGB Bar.
Susan Tepper: Kathy, when I read your story “Snow“ posted here on Fictionaut I was spellbound (snowbound)? It’s a little miracle of a story, and a perfect example of the narrative being driven by “place.” The snow in this story ebbs and flows with such ferocity. How did you come to begin this way?
Kathy Fish: I live in Colorado and we tend to get freak snowstorms as you probably know. In March of 2003 we got one of those “Blizzard of the Century” kind of deals. The area I live in got seven feet of snow. Anyway, my husband was out of the country and my oldest daughter was in NYC for a school trip so I was home and housebound with my other children for several days. Many of the images from this story come directly from that storm. It really had this surreal, apocalyptic feel to it. The story arose out of my desire to answer the question, “What if it never stops?” And I went from there.
ST: I know that feeling. Winter can be so foreboding as well as beautiful. You really worked that dark metaphor in “Snow.” Your first line “The snow started late Friday afternoon and everyone struggled driving home.” The use of “struggle” makes a strong set up line for your opening, and then you give us: cars moved funereally, garage doors opening like mouths, ten inches, still coming down, up against the north sides of houses. To quote just a few. The story bombards us. That fear of being swallowed up by the storm that will be unending. A life-changing storm. Because it did change things for these people in this place, right?
KF: Yes, I wanted to set that tone of foreboding from the outset, that life as they knew it was never going to be the same again. And I did want the story to bombard the reader the way a storm does. The story appears in New South as one extremely long paragraph (I broke it up for F’nauter’s eyes). I remember when I workshopped it I kept getting the same feedback, i.e. “You have heard of paragraphs, right?” But I stubbornly stuck to the structure I had. I was ridiculously confident that that was how the story needed to be told. Happily, the editor of New South agreed.
ST: I can see the one paragraph format being really effective for this story in that it bolsters that relentlessness of the snow and the after-snow. It gives no breathing space, kind of sucks us into its white drifts. The relentlessness that never gives an inch. But before Armageddon strikes, you make a big transition! You create a sort of Winter Wonderland with phrasings such as: “Finally on Sunday just before dusk, the snow stopped; they waved to each other; called isn’t this something; people marvelled at the pristine beauty; white snow against a china blue plate sky. You lulled us into this scene off a Hallmark card. It’s going to be OK after all. In fact you give us better than OK. They all go shopping for delicacies and wines and goodies.
KF: Ha, right! I wanted to toy with these people a little bit. Lay out a little hope. And that’s the sort of psychological cycle that sets in. First people are rather bolstered, loving the challenge of the weather, all Man vs. Nature and everything. We can do this! It is almost a feeling of euphoria. And then, yeah, it keeps coming and coming and there’s this transition to a gallows humor and then no humor at all and then…complete insanity, ha.
ST: Kathy, I find it so interesting that you, as the author, are aware you were “toying” with these characters. And that you are willing to share that with us! What fun! Because the story, in its shifting darks to lights, then back to darks, is fun! Take this line: “All the snowmen now had large, erect penises and rictus smiles on their faces.” Care to share again?
KF: You know, once in Estes Park, I saw these tiny, aroused snowmen all in a row on a fence rail. That’s the kind of stuff we as writers use, right? To me that image in the story was an indicator that things on this little suburban cul-de-sac were going downhill fast.
ST: It’s a fabulous image. How lucky you were to have seen that and remembered! Again the snow drives your narrative. Well I won’t give away the rest of your story except to say that it transitions once more and turns very dark, indeed. It’s a fascinating, beautiful story.
Read “Snow“ by Kathy Fish.