In this Interview with the Winner, Melissa Hinshaw catches up with the second-place-winning Corey Flintoff, author of “Collection of the Artist”. Read Flintoff’s winning story here, then get to know him and his work more below.
This piece brings together some epic topics and themes: war, art, love, aging, trauma, relationships, business. Are these usually subjects you write about, or was this new territory for you?
War is a frequent topic for me because I’ve covered several wars as a foreign correspondent. I write about aging because I’m old. I write about love and relationships because…, what’s more important in life? I haven’t written about art before, but I’m inspired by my wife, who is a painter.
I like how having a project gives this story a sort of engine to run off of, gives the characters something to engage with and do. How do you typically create a sense of action in your stories?
Kurt Vonnegut famously said that every character in a story should want something, even if it’s only a glass of water. I think having characters engaged in some unusual project is a good way to express what each of them wants and how they hope to get it.
There’s a sense of trauma in this story, coming from Ross being a veteran but also something to his dealings with Ani and his super productive painting career. How do you see trauma being moved through the characters in this story, and perhaps the reader as well?
Ross’s potential as an artist was blighted by the guilt over his actions during the war. Ani suffered because she loved someone who was so damaged by PTSD that he lashed out against her. I think it’s relatable because so many of us have experienced some version of the way that past traumas affect people throughout their lives.
Hector begins the story as a literal documenter of art, and also functions as the narrator and therefore curator of this story as well. Sneaky move! How do you see Hector’s one-person-removed place in this relationship web as useful for driving the narration of this story?
I conceived of this story as something like a theatrical piece, where the reader gets to watch the scene as it plays out. It seemed like a good idea to have a sympathetic observer who could stand in for the reader. As a business person, Hector can see how precarious the lives of these artists are. As a relative outsider, he can ask Ani and Lorna to explain things to him. As a non-expert, he can look at Ross’s paintings without over-interpreting them.
I love the way that Ross is present in this story not only through his art and relationship with Ani, but through his grime. Tell us about creating the scene of an art studio with words.
Painting is messy. Unlike writing, it gets under your fingernails. It spatters. It drips. It smells of oils and thinners and chalk dust and charcoal. It gets on everything and colors everything, and in Ross’s case, it leaves traces of his personality everywhere.
There seems to be a deep and twisted backstory to Ani and Ross’ relationship especially. Have you written more about them elsewhere? If not, what kind of story do you imagine it is?
I haven’t written about these two before, but I know a lot of artists who are in relationships with other artists, often in other pursuits—dancers with painters, musicians with writers or actors. One artist can often understand another’s challenges, but there’s also built-in conflict because of the ego and commitment that each person’s art demands. I imagine that Ani and Ross were attracted to each other’s talent and commitment. In the big nude that he painted of Ani, he was stressing her strength and dynamism as a dancer. She defended his work, both during and after his life. Ross’s mental-health struggles and his PTSD ruined their relationship as a couple. He bullied and abused her in pursuit of that image that he did and did not want to see.
How do you view your relationship to art as a writer? How do you view writing as an art?
Writing is the art that allows me to deal with traumas that I can’t express otherwise. I can pretend “it happened to someone else,” and then explore what that trauma or that unrevealed secret does to the character’s life.
If this story were a painting, what would it look like? Abstract or figurative? Big or small? Oil, acrylic, watercolor, something else?
It would be a big oil, figurative but not realistic. It would be unruly and imprecise.
Interviewed by Melissa Hinshaw