Kathy Fish:   Most of the titles of the vignettes which make up your novel From the Umberplatzen are one word titles.  Wreath is one such vignette. Can you tell me why you chose this as your title? It feels to me like the wreaths held different meanings for M. and for Kitty Kat…

Susan Tepper:  Well, you started with a hard question but I will do my best here.  Wreath is a flash-fiction lifted out of From the Umberplatzen.  The book is set in Germany but told mostly in flash-back, after Kitty’s return to the States.  Most of the titles were chosen once I completed writing a particular flash.  I would sit a moment and use the first title that popped into my head.  And it seemed correct, appropriate, somehow, doing it that way.

So when Wreath begins, M is telling Kitty Kat (his pet name for her) they should get married; despite her being already married to a guy she left back in the States.  M also suggests they both wear wreaths made of Umberplatzen leaves.  He is a dreamer, whimsical, impetuous, a maker of kites; but he’s also a brilliant physicist.  M sees things beyond the realm of the eye.  I think he believed that the wearing of Umberplatzen wreaths for the marriage ceremony would somehow weave them together, too, in a sort of perfect harmony.  The Umberplatzen so essential to their lives, their story.  It’s a metaphor or conceit that is used to portray a place of peace.  But Kitty Kat, being the more pragmatic one, is appalled by the very idea of an Umberplatzen wreath on her head, and answers him by saying she could get gnats in her hair.

K.F.  The whole push and pull of their relationship seems brought to a head in this particular vignette as M. asks Kitty Kat to marry him and she reminds him that she’s already married. They seem, throughout the book, to be in different places in relationship. I think you contrast this so brilliantly within the dialogue, most especially in this piece. Can you talk a little about your thoughts on what makes good dialogue and what dialogue can do to advance a narrative in general and then about the dialogue in this piece?

S.T. Yes, the push and pull, I felt it throughout the writing.  I think men and women are mostly always at different places in relationship, and that’s what makes for so much drama (in life and on the page and stage).

As for dialogue, I made some unconscious choice to have it embedded rather than lift it up in quotation marks.  I think doing it this way, for this story (and the book), helps the reader get closer to the characters.  It’s kind of like you get to read their minds and watch them do their thing at the same time.  Because I was an actor from a young age I read a ton of plays.  Dialogue comes easy.  I have to work harder on other elements.  But I think if the writer digs down and gets up close and personal with the characters, the dialogue kind of sings on its own.  As for dialogue moving the plot along— well if they are in the middle of a talk about marriage, and someone suddenly says let’s go shopping, that will definitely move the plot in some strong direction.

K.F.  I feel as though the story shifts emotionally in the middle of this piece when M.’s  hopes are dashed and there is the gorgeous line:  “When we met you were all stars.”

He says this at the moment where she regrets her dismissal of buying the filmy dress. I am so impressed with how you handle this moment. My question is, did this arise spontaneously from the writing? Because it feels like something that may have surprised you, the writer, too.

S.T.  I was constantly surprised by what these characters said and did, what decisions were made.  It all spilled out of my unconscious.  I, too, love that line (is it OK to love a line you wrote?).  What I love about that line is that this man M saw her as all stars.  How incredibly flattering.   It might be the only time in Kitty Kat’s life anyone feels so strongly about her, so that makes the line pivotal.  And again the line came out of the push and pull of that moment.  It’s like when someone is saying they love you, and you are denying it for some reason, and you both want to die from the inevitable agony you know is just around the bend.

K.F.  I noticed in Wreath there is no punctuation besides the periods. I think this is true of the whole book. I like it. It contributes to both the flow and the sound of the book and the individual pieces. It’s as if, to me, their voices are ethereal, floating, contributing to the aspect of recall. The words may or may not have been actually said, but this is how they are remembered. Also, there are no commas, no pauses, which also lends a certain sound to the book. The first sentence of Wreath is:  “Kitty Kat we should get married.”

Then later:  “See said M. This could be our wedding food.”

There’s a flatness to these statements that I like quite a bit. Not in the words themselves, but somehow, in the delivery. I feel like this was a conscious choice on your part, for this book, and not your style in general. Can you talk a little bit about this? (also, I intentionally put in a lot of commas, here, for the hell of it).

S.T.  Yeah, commas, what the hell!  OK, well, here’s the thing. I wasn’t aware that Wreath was without punctuation (other than periods).  In the book a few of the stories did get a comma or two. It wasn’t a conscious decision. The sentences came from a space in my writing mind that pushes out dialogue, and in this case the dialogue was short and to the point. If I were to analyze my choices, I would say I did this to keep the stories clear on who is doing the speaking, since there are no quotation marks.  Wreath, and every story in the book, is being told from Kitty Kat’s memory of what happened between them. And we all know how ‘skewed’ memory can be, especially after elapsed time, and distance.

Kathy, as for what you say here about my “style in general” I would have to answer by saying the story itself dictated the style.  I felt channeled writing the Umberplatzen stories.

K.F.  Okay, drawing from what you last said: “I felt channeled writing the Umberplatzen stories.”

I’m fascinated by this. Writers often say that they feel as if they are channeling something else when writing. Here, you say that you felt as if you, yourself, were being channeled. I want to make sure that’s what you meant. If so, who do you feel was channeling you? The two lovers? Were they dictating the story to you? It makes me love the book all the more. Did you ever feel as though you had to override them? Did you ever go, no, that won’t work, in the revision process? Or did you trust in the process completely, give yourself over to it? This is often how I write, but I do go back and change things.

Also, “the story dictated the style.” This feels right to me as I can’t imagine their story being told any other way. So I guess what I’m saying is that everything in Wreath and the book as a whole feels natural and whole. But did you ever doubt this process? Or did it just always feel right to you and you went with it?

ST: Kathy I felt completely at the mercy of my characters and plot. As if they had reached out to me, to tell their story.  There was never any doubt, or any ‘thinking’  going on.  I tend not to doubt.  I’ve had ‘writers faith’ from my first pathetic attempts at story.  I always thought my stuff was good.  Of course in retrospect I can see how flawed my early stories were.  But back then I thought they were just great.  Ha ha!  Plus I had the encouragement of wonderful writing teachers who gave me the green light.

As for Wreath, and the other Umberplatzen stories, many of the details did in fact come out of ‘snippets’ of my own real life (like the parakeets Sonny and Cher).  But there was no ‘active consciousness’ going on during the writing.  There was no revision, except to correct typos or to research a particular date or some details I put into the German language.  On one occasion I asked Jurgen what the beer gardens were called, because that word eluded me.  In the past I spent large chunks of time in Germany.  But each little story came out in the book in its original (first draft) form.  It is mystical, but then again it’s not. Why shouldn’t there be two characters named M and Kitty Kat living out this life somewhere?  I was happy to breathe life into them on the page, in our realm.  It was a very contented writing time for me.

Read Wreath by Susan Tepper

Kathy Fish’s short fiction collection  Together We Can Bury It is forthcoming in September from The Lit Pub. Her collection Wild Life is available from Matter Press.


  1. Marcus Speh

    This is the most beautiful conversation on some of the most important topics drawing on both your immense experience as writers of the short form. I particularly appreciated the commence on dialogue and channeling. All of what Susan says is commensurable with what I’ve heard other writers say when they were in the grip of birthing something beyond rational planning. It seems to me that the short form is well-suited to this manner of work. Only the other day I found out that even the mystery novels of Raymond Chandler were composed as a sequence of flash pieces (cp. Williams’ brand-new biography). And I believe that Robert Graves said similar things about the White Goddess, an altogether completely different work. “The story dictates the style” is memorable: the metaphorical place of the Umberplatzen and the two central characters seem too act as the three corners of a God triangle driving the story. It makes me think of my own and others’ seemingly desperate attempts to impose plot on a story, even though the plot is the pinnacle of junk writing: I’m saying this respectfully as someone who is largely plotless but who secretly tries to learn the art of the plot from hop head Bibles like Plotto.

  2. ebruno

    I love so many lines in this story of love. You picked up on all the great ones Kathy and Susans responses were so informative.
    A wonderful book, wonderful author.

  3. Jane Hammons

    What a wonderful way to begin the morning. In addition to what Marcus says, I find the point about revision interesting as well, as I am a chronic reviser, though it is true that flash pieces, I think because of the form, often come fully realized. Womderful back and forth here from two flash artists!

  4. Marcus Speh
  5. Gloria Mindock

    I agree, what a nice way to start out the day.
    This is a great chat between you two!
    I enjoyed it so much. The questions and answers, gave us so much as readers.
    Thanks so much-

  6. David Ackley

    The account of the writing of “From the Umberplatzen,” underlines so well the sense of spontaneity and original voice that the work conveys. It’s great to hear where that all comes from in Susan’s words, and the courage and style expressed in her work.

  7. Darryl Price

    I have had the pleasure of rereading this treasure of a book many times now and I find I am always delighted by it. It works. As is said about a really wonderful piece of music,if it’s still as good as the first time you heard it,then you are listening to the real thing. Susan’s writing to me has that same timeless quality about it.Plus I’m a sucker for the romance.I love so very much reading about her process and how brave and allowing a writer must always be in the moment when the story wishes to tell itself in its own unique way. A great writer navigates the gushing waters without disturbing the beauty for what it is.Thanks for the interview. Very cool!

  8. Meg Sefton

    I loved this interview! From the Umberplatzen will be a great way to end my summer as it is waiting for me, patiently on my shelf. I appreciated learning more about process here. It is quite inspiring to me. Thank you both Kathy and Susan, two excellent writers and people.

  9. susan tepper

    Thank you Marcus for letting me and Kathy know how this chat affected you. It is also extravagantly generous of you to post it on your classy new retro-style blog!!!

  10. estelle bruno

    so many wonderful lines in this story, you found them all to be great Kathy, Susan has the best facinating replies to them all. A lovely chat.

  11. Kathy Fish

    Thanks for reading, everyone, and the great comments. If you have not read From the Umberplatzen I heartily recommend it. One of my favorite reads this year. This chat was such a pleasure for me. Thanks, Susan for your terrific answers!

  12. Roberto Garcia

    Wonderful interview! The tables turned on Susan the interviewer, now the guest! A wonderful book too.

  13. susan tepper

    So appreciative of the additional wonderful notes left here by: Jane Hammons, Gloria Mindock, Dave Ackley, Darryl Price, Meg Sefton, Estelle Bruno and Roberto Garcia (yes, Roberto, the tables have been turned… and it was so much fun to talk with Kathy! KATHY FISH was my VERY FIRST CHATEE here at the Monday Chat series.

  14. Beate Sigriddaughter

    Wonderful interview on a wonderful story and book, both. “I think men and women are mostly always at different places in relationship.” That about sums it all up. Applies to women and women, too. Can’t say about men and men, but I have my suspicions.

    Anyway, of course you can love your own lines. Or stories. Or books. In fact, you should! I had to pick a security question and answer for something recently, and I picked “What’s your favorite book?” Then I was stumped for a while, Doris Lessing’s Marriages Between Zones Three Four and Five? Grimm’s Fairy Tales? And then I started smiling and picked one of my own.

  15. JP Reese

    This is another great intro. to a book that grabbed me and would not let go. I kept going back to the chapters, wondering how, exactly, they worked. The way it’s constructed is brilliant, and the form and content so complimentary. It is a tour de force and well worth a second and even third read. I wrote a review at Connotation Press of the book some time ago, and it was only the second review I’d ever written. It is difficult for me to write about a book unless it truly moves me, and this book did. If you’re still not convinced, perhaps you should read this: http://www.connotationpress.com/book-reviews/1300-book-review-from-the-umberplatzen

  16. susan tepper

    Beate I love that you chose one of your own books to love!!! Yes! My little note to all writers: love your stuff. It will love you back. It might be the best love you’ll ever get! Beate thank you for your sweetly wonderful comments on our chat and my story.

  17. susan tepper

    Beate I love that you chose one of your own books to love!!! Yes! My little love note to all writers: love your stuff. It will love you back. It might be the best love you’ll ever get! Beate thank you for your sweetly wonderful comments on our chat and my story.

  18. susan tepper

    Joani your review of the book is so specific and special, I was rather stunned to learn here that it was only the second you had written!!! I love it so much that I printed it up to save among the cards and notes I rec’d from other Fictionaut friends who read the book. Thanks so much for what you wrote here, too!

  19. Christopher

    Lovely interview! Great questions, terrific answers.

  20. susan tepper

    Christopher, thankee………….

  21. james claffey

    sorry to be commenting late, but it’s been a busy few days at home. i loved the book, the fine writing, the evocativeness (is that a word)… susan has a deft way with a story and it comes through so well in the umberplatzen.

  22. susan tepper

    James, so happy that you enjoyed here, and the book! Many thanks!

  23. Steve Glines

    From the Umberplatzen is a very charming little book. I wish my journal read so beautifully.

  24. Sally Reno

    What a yummy interview! Thanks for this to you both. I am a constant admirer of the works of both ST and KF and ‘From the Umberplatzen’ is a heart’s favoritest favorite. Meg Sefton I envy you being able to read it for the first time and next. I am coming up on my 5th cover-to-cover read, haven’t worn it out yet, don’t expect to.

    Yes to ‘mystical,’ yes to ‘channeling,’and yes to ‘writers’ faith’ I love that! It should be seated on the right hand of ‘poetic license’ and far from the madding, ‘writers’ block.’

    Yes to what everyone else has said here including James’ apologies for coming to this late. And Beate, if Matt Potter’s beautiful story, ‘Sydney Hotel Room’ can be taken as evidence, I’d say your suspicions are correct.

  25. susan tepper

    Sally, this is beautiful, what you said here. I’m stumped for a reply that would come close to your eloquence and heart. Thank you xxxxxxx

  26. susan tepper

    ps– Matt Potter’s SYDNEY HOTEL ROOM is a beyond incredible read. And Matt Potter is a beyond incredible person. Spending time with him in June was a sparkling experience. Matt Potter has tremendous energy and he crackles with kindness.

  27. Steve Glines

    From the Umberplatzen is a charming little book. I wish my journal entries were as passionate and as beautifully written. The young lady who’s entries Susan Tepper imagines is madly in love and we are the better for it.

  28. Philip F Clark

    A perfect example of a perfect interview! Beautiful, incisive, and completely enthralling. An inspiration on every level. Thank you so much, Susan and Kathy.

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