FUNCTIONALLY LITERATE: A LITERARY FUNCTION with Lindsay Hunter, Nathan Holic
7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 21 | Urban ReThink, 625 E. Central Blvd. | 407-704-6895 | functionallyliterate.org | free
Nobody was more surprised than Orlando-bred author Lindsay Hunter when her second collection of flash-fiction short stories, Don’t Kiss Me (FSG Originals, 175 pages), broke through the crowded upper crust of popular literary criticism this summer, landing it on several must-read (or beach-read) lists – The New York Times, New York magazine’s Vulture blog, Nylon and Vogue, among others.
It may not turn its own pages with the disposable dew of sweet summer felicitations, but Don’t Kiss Me does carry its own charm, often in the dirty corners of the marginalized and forgotten living out small narratives with dirt under their nails and vulgarity in their mouths. We caught up with Hunter – who will be reading at Burrow Press’ Functionally Literate event Sept. 21 – to discuss inspiration, perspiration and the perks of being a former bookseller.
Orlando Weekly: Do you kiss your baby with that filthy mouth?
Lindsay Hunter: All the time. All the time, all over. He’s going to be so embarrassed one day.
When you’re accessing these characters, do you fall into some sort of seizure trance in a blood-filled bathtub?
Maybe I should be ashamed to admit this, but I never feel like I’m writing something extreme, or I’m writing because I want to be gross or provocative. I honestly write it because it’s coming from my heart. I feel for these characters, and I want to write who they are. I remember my editor saying, “I’m so excited. You should be really excited about this.” And I was like, “Thank you very much. I write from the heart. That means a lot to me.” And she was like, “You write from the heart? That must be a dark place.”
The people who populate your stories seem tragic, but they don’t think or let on that they are tragic. There’s no moral to the story.
Exactly. I feel like in life, too, there are people that you can look at on the surface and say, “That guy is sort of a weirdo, ugh.” Then if you actually talk to them or get to know them in some way, they surprise you. I am fascinated by that in real life, and I try to do that in my writing too.
There seems to be an underlying theme of co-dependence, also.
I never thought of it that way. One of the main threads in everything I write, the sameness in all of my writing, is all about lonely people and how the things that they do and say to themselves and say to other people is all a way to circumvent that loneliness, or to deny or get through it.
So, there appears to be a conscious deconstruction of standard storytelling here. Some of the stories avoid punctuation, others – like “Our Man” – challenge the narrative format altogether. Does breaking with convention inspire you?
I try to write for what I’m hearing or what I’m seeing. Every time I say something like that I feel so cheesy, but it’s true. I consult my crystals. I spent a lot of time all through grad school trying to write in the traditional format, and tried really hard to write stories that I actually cared about and what I thought people wanted to read. I eventually stopped thinking too much and just started writing. When I have all my comma splices, or absence of punctuation, I’m doing that very purposefully. I’m doing that because I want the sentence to read a certain way, or I want you to hear a voice in a certain way. Lately I’ve been doing less of that. I’ve been trusting that punctuation isn’t going to stop anyone from reading what I want them to read.
You’re working on a novel for fall 2014. How does that compare with writing “flash fiction”?
Someone in one of the bad reviews I got for this book called it “flash-in-the-pan fiction”! So writing a novel is obviously very different from that, because you’re telling a story that lasts for-fucking-ever. But the way that I’m writing it is in sort of flash-fictiony bursts, and from the point of view of five different characters.
You’re big-time Chicago now, but does Orlando inform any of these characters?
Absolutely. That is in my DNA. Orlando and Central Florida are poorly represented, or underrepresented, in fiction, I feel. I remember when I went to grad school, I was like, “Man, everything I write, I’m gonna set in Florida. I’m gonna show the world.” It’s not so egotistical anymore, but that’s just where they come from. Those are the people that I grew up with. They’re the people I feel most at home with. They’re the people that I recognize the most.
I seem to recall that we once worked together at a book emporium. I remember that defeatism we would feel when we would rip the covers off of books for returns while throwing the text into the garbage. Do you ever think about that when you’re publishing a book?
Absolutely. I know a lot of writers, and a lot of people have books coming out, like really amazing books on really amazing presses – so many fucking writers, so many fucking books. So I’m at a point right now, where, hey, if one person reads my book, that is a success in this day and age.