From “A Labor of Love,” by Katie Jean Shinkle in Puerto del Sol Vol. 47, No. 1:
Mother pretends there is a little extra money and brings home lovebirds from Andi’s parents’ pet store, LUV YOUR PETZ. LUV YOUR PETZ is going out-of-business and they are trying to get rid of Absolutely Everything In The Store MUST GO!!!! says the ad in the Sunday newspaper so Mother went and bought two.
We named ours Cherry, our brother named his Freddy Kruger.
Katie Jean Shinkle is the author of The Sadness of July, forthcoming from dancing girl press, and Julysleep, an echap forthcoming from Gold Wake Press. Other work can be found in or forthcoming from Sonora Review, Salt Hill, Super Arrow, and Ghost Ocean Magazine, among others. She is currently a doctoral candidate in creative writing at the University of Denver.
Below, Katie discusses resonance, the things that haunt her writing, and the perils of pet ownership.
I love the darkly funny images in this piece, though I don’t want to get too specific and risk spoiling the story for those who have yet to read it. Hopefully without giving too much away, where did this story originate?
I was obsessing about the family dynamics when a pet cat dies, as creepy as that is, but then the obsession moved to domesticated animals and household pets, in general. Really, I am interested in the ways in which human beings simultaneously love and hate their pets, the ways in which the pets bare the brunt of the dynamics of human interaction in a domestic space, especially when the dynamic in the domestic space is destructive or im/ex-ploding. I was thinking about how pets can be the first thing to be neglected or abused in a space that is crumbling and how this neglect and/or abuse can change everything somehow, acting as a mirror to the situation in a lot of ways.
In thinking about the ending structurally, it uses a repeated root sentence that each iteration builds on. It seems risky in such a short piece, where each word’s weight is magnified, to use repetition in this way. I have my own ideas about what this is doing, but why did you choose this structure?
I love this idea of the “root sentence” and building iteration as resonation, like a haunting. I feel like this structure allows the diction to haunt and occupy in a full-on sensory way. This building is a signature of the voice of the narrator, a collective We, in the larger manuscript and it seems key for the overall architecture of the larger manuscript this one chapter-story comes from. This repetition at once nourishes and is cyclically violent, unrelenting as the voice of We. In this chapter-story, the repetition from the root serves the same purpose on a smaller scale, providing momentum, building a curious sense of haunting through syntax, a half-ouroboros of sorts, the sentence beginning to eat itself, the voice beginning to eat itself, a ghost of some sort, that creates the voice of the narrator.
This piece does a lot of what I think a great short should do: it builds strong tension, projects resonant images, and leaves me thinking about the piece long after I’ve read it. What challenges and benefits do you see in using the very short form?
The challenge and the benefit is the mere constraint of brevity. In life in general, I am a wordy mother fucker and a lot of those words are garbage. I am long-winded, I love lots of detail, I love digressions and gossip and interruption and stories-within-stories and talking shit, I love lots of large, sensory images, I love dialogue, I love messy resonations and connections, so keeping things “brief” and “short” was not my strongest attribute. There was a time in my process where I felt like I was simply wasting words and page space. I cannot do, let’s say, what Kellie Wells does, this absolutely gorgeous maximalist prose, which is what I thought I was doing, but I absolutely was not doing that. The challenge for me was to learn to rein those words in, learn where the heat in the writing was for me.
I understand that “A Labor of Love” is one part of a larger series. How does this piece fit into that, and where can we read more?
“A Labor of Love” is a chapter-story in my novel entitled The Show Must Go On. This chapter-story falls in the middle of the manuscript; each chapter-story is no more than 3 pages and can all stand alone as individual pieces while building the overall narrative of the novel. An excerpt of several chapter-stories from the novel won the Calvino Prize 2011 from the University of Louisville and appears in Salt Hill 29 and other chapter-stories have appeared online at Dark Sky Magazine, Mud Luscious Press (Issue 18), elimae, alice blue review and elsewhere.
Your work as an assistant poetry editor over at DIAGRAM brings up the tight relationship between poetry and short short stories (or very short fiction, flash fiction, micro, and what-have-you). How does your work as an editor inform your writing, particularly your fiction?
The most important aspect of my work at DIAGRAM in relation to my prose is the exposure to so much innovative writing that lives inside (and beyond) this hybrid cusp of genres, work that largely cannot be defined, work that we are, on occasion, defining as it is being published and experienced, and those definitions are largely slippery, loose, light. This is a powerful thing. In regards to my prose, I carry these reading experiences around with me like ghosts, I think about constantly the ways in which I want my manuscripts and pieces to not be definable all the time, the ways I want them to be slippery and loose and light in their categorization in the world, in the very act of being. It is so absolutely exciting to be able to read and experience what so many other hundreds of writers are up to on a regular basis and be moved, haunted, invigorated, humbled, and wildly inspired by it. I am sort of always in a state of awe.
What other projects do you have in the works?
I have two poetry chapbooks forthcoming, one called The Sadness of July, forthcoming from dancing girl press and one called Julysleep, an echap forthcoming from Gold Wake Press. Right this second, I am currently completing a new novel-in-stories about a pair of conjoined twins named Dina & Darlene Tunnel, which began as a collaboration (with writer Randy Lee) in a significantly different form and has continued to morph into a singular project of my own. (One chapter-story from this novel will make its debut in xTx’s Supermodel Summer: notimetosayit.com.)
Follow Katie and her writing at Twitter: @ktjeanshinkle or on tumblr: girlunderice.tumblr.com (it has been described as a “museum of wank” by Gene Kwak).
Order your copy of Puerto del Sol 47.1 to read Katie’s full story and the work of other great writers. Pre-orders available now: Puerto del Sol, Vol 47, No. 1: $10:00