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"The Specter of Disaster": An Interview with Anne-Marie Kinney


Anne-Marie Kinney is the author of the novel Radio Iris. Her short fiction has appeared in Black Clock, Alaska Quarterly Review, The Rattling Wall, Fanzine, and other places. She co-curates L.A.'s Griffith Park Storytelling Series.

Her story, "Isn't It a Beautiful Night," appeared in Issue Eighty-Nine of The Collagist.

Here, Anne-Marie Kinney talks with interviewer William Hoffacker about earthquakes, setting, and characters' inner lives.

What can you tell us about the origins of your story “Isn’t It a Beautiful Night”? What sparked the initial idea that caused you to start writing it?

The idea for the story came from a real-life news item that was making the rounds, the one mentioned in the story, about the fact that we’re overdue for a “big one” on the San Andreas Fault (I live in L.A.). At the time, there was reportedly an increased likelihood of a big quake over a span of a few days. It was the kind of thing everyone says “oh shit” about but then pretty much continues with their day, half terrified, half laughing about it, because what else are you going to do? It got me thinking about the ways we live under the specter of disaster, and especially how it’s becoming a way of life for everyone as the realities of climate change come into focus. And, yeah, people get cancer and get hit by cars every day too, but you still need to go to work and take care of your family, because what else are you going to do?

The line that really opened this story up for me was this: “These are the quiet times I fill in one of two ways: Deep Satisfaction or Nameless Dread.” Mostly the conflict in this story is internal, the narrator’s anxiety. The only external sources of conflict are potential, the threat of earthquakes and the effects of climate change. Is it typical for characters in your fiction to experience conflict from within rather than from without? Do you tend to write stories about people navigating their ordinary lives or extraordinary circumstances, or is it a balance?

I tend to write about internal struggle a lot because that’s what’s interesting to me as a reader. I like to ride around in somebody’s brain, and I often don’t care that much what they do or what happens. Every life is fascinating if you can really get down into it. My aim is to pull something transcendent out of day-to-day life, to find it under rocks if I have to.

Can you describe the importance of setting in your fiction? Of course, with all its talk of earthquakes and temperature, it’s necessary that this story take place in Southern California. How significant of a role does the local environment of the setting usually play in your stories?

Most (all?) of my stories, including my novel Radio Iris, are really built around a place. In the case of Radio Iris, it was an office building, with its frigid air conditioning and white walls. With my next novel it was a run-down San Fernando Valley strip mall. With “Isn’t It a Beautiful Night,” it was a hot car in traffic. Place is mood and mood is life. Most of us spend our lives going to a handful of places over and over again, and those places become our lives. I write about Southern California a lot because it’s the place I know best, but there are infinite places within it. I’m more interested in rooms and streets than in geography.

Please tell us about your revision process. How much did this story change from the first draft to the final? What are your priorities when you’re refining a piece of writing?

My process is very slow, because I don’t like moving on from a paragraph until I feel like it’s right and doing what I want it to do. I like to say I can’t cross a bridge I haven’t built yet. I can’t work on a later section if the section that leads into it is a mess, because everything builds on what came before. So, like most of my writing, the first draft of this story came line by line, paragraph by paragraph. Then subsequent drafts are about pulling back on moments that I’ve pushed too hard and nurturing the parts that feel undercooked. I always knew this story was going to be very short, and it’s more autobiographical than most of the things I write. I sort of had the whole thing in my head before I started, so it didn’t change all that much from start to finish other than trimming fat.

What writing project(s) are you working on now?

I’m currently looking for a home for my second novel, a bit of San Fernando Valley melancholia called Coldwater Canyon, about an increasingly ill Desert Storm veteran stalking a young actress. In the meantime, I’m working on a new novel about a mother and adult daughter facing their demons through a series of extreme weather events.

What have you read recently that you would like to recommend?

I recently really enjoyed Margaret Wappler’s novel Neon Green. And I’m always reading short stories, currently Helen Oyeyemi’s collection What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, which is so strange and lovely and expansive.


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