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Interview: Trent England

Trent England's work appears in the April issue of The Collagist. He is finishing his first novel. He can be found online at www.tengland.com.

Can you talk about the inspiration for "Other Things I Lied About"? What was on your mind while you were writing this story?

One side of this is that I love lists. In fiction, you get a nice successive feeling with lists. Like the subject matter is growing and building. The other side of this piece is that it’s also meant to feel like a joke. The way a joke is constructed, it has to have an ending, a punch line. So here, I got to combine the two, and play with the momentum, enabling it to build nicely and provide a strong ending.

Something that fascinates me right off the bat with this piece is that the narrator of the piece is honestly confessing to the dishonest actions of the narrator in its own story. It’s a sort of ‘narrator within a narration’, where the two versions of the same character have vastly different aims. How do you reconcile these two voices—the liar and the seemingly honest confessor? How did you approach the creation of a narrator whose former and present selves are so different, but presented side by side in such a short piece?

It’s like in a play or a movie: the audience has a knowledge that the characters don’t, and as the play or movie progresses, the audience becomes aware of something that the characters knew all along. It’s just about revealing some of the truth some of the time to some of the people.

I think that much of the impact of this fiction is the fact that it is a double confession—not only did these things happen (or not happen) but they were also concealed or denied. I had to read the piece a few times to catch all of the implications—for example, “What made me want to be a manual laborer, and why my eyes twitched, and why I looked away when I answered” leaves a lot of questions. Why lie about these things? To whom were the lies told? Why are these all mentioned together in the same sentence? What was it about this confessional form that lent itself to the story you wanted to tell, rather than writing a more linear narrative?

A more linear narrative wouldn’t have given me as much room to imply so much in such a short time. In a confessional form, people get wordy, and they get weird. This narrator is a weird guy. Behind even the most frivolous of lies are the uneasiest of truths. I think it’s true for this piece and in the real world.

You’ve written poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and are currently working on your first novel. How do each of these forms lend themselves to what you’re expressing in your writing, and how is this accomplished differently across these forms? Considering that your work to date consists mostly of shorter pieces, why did you decide to take on writing a novel?

I don’t see a huge difference in all these different forms. It’s more about a subject matter, or a theme, that I’m propagating. Some ideas I’ve had were long stories that I watered down to a poem, because they only needed a few lines. That was their essence. This novel, its subject matter and mood and theme, suited itself to the long form.

What other writing projects are you currently working on?

As I write this, I’m finishing the final draft of this novel. Simultaneously, I’m starting to make notes and sketch ideas for a second book. Right now it’s a vague and rough collection of moods and lines of dialogue and scenes in my head. But in a few weeks I’ll start putting them to paper to see what’s working. I think it will be a very big book.

What great books have you read recently? Are there any upcoming releases you're excited about?

I’ve mostly just had my nose in research for this novel. I tend to surround myself with the aesthetic of whatever I’m writing. Lately, it’s been books on architecture and small-town America. I got into Studs Terkel last year, and his writings and collections of oral history are still my bread and water. The newest book I’m excited about has already been released: I bought one of the stained copies of Brian Evenson’s Baby Leg, and it’s on the top of my leisure reading list.

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