On Monday, we published “My Sister Versus Tomatoes,” the third-prize winning story in this year’s Flash Fiction Contest, written by Kate Barss and selected by Kim Chinquee. Today, we’re pleased to share this interview with the writer about her story. First, read this prize-winning piece, then come back and enjoy a conversation about tomatoes, relationships, and the writing process!
Congrats on placing in our flash fiction contest! This is one of my favorite contests we host—I’m a huge flash fan. Is flash your primary genre/form?
Yes, I mostly write flash, and even teach courses in it through Catapult and the continuing studies department at the University of Guelph. I’ve just finished putting together my first collection of linked flash stories. I’m also working on a non-fiction work about bees and memory and fertility that is told in flash vignettes.
What’s the deal with the tomatoes?
When, my real sister, not the narrativized version of her here, started dating her boyfriend, she found out he didn’t like tomatoes or eggs. So, she decided that she would also not eat tomatoes or eggs and would adamantly deny that she had ever enjoyed either. It’s like she wanted to erase the version of herself that existed before her relationship. I love this about her, because she’s an incredibly funny and stubborn and sweet human, but it’s also frustrating to witness, so I wrote about it.
There’s an interesting moment about midway through “My Sister Versus Tomatoes” where the narrator says: “My old therapist used to point out how much I tried to mirror my partners.” This coming immediately after learning the narrator’s sister has “come to understand relationships as… a squishing together of identities,” it reads like a confession of sorts. My sister and I are similar in more ways than it seems. I find the dynamic between sisters here fascinating. I suppose my question is, Was that something you set out to explore initially—the sisters in general, or perhaps more specifically, the way identities are assimilated in relationships, as their mother describes—or did it emerge through the editing process?
I think a lot about how I behave in my intimate relationships—family, friends and partners. Being in relationship to someone else is the only way you can find out certain things about yourself. When I wrote this a few years ago, I was at a residency at the Banff Centre, and it kind came out in one burst, but it was a tendency I had been thinking about in myself for years. My sister is a very concrete thinker, and so I find through being with her, I often learn things about the subtle ways we are socialized—because she brings these things that go unsaid to the surface. And so, in watching her begin to date, and her preoccupation and, as you say, assimilation in her relationship, I end up reflecting a lot about how our behaviors are quite similar at times, mine are just maybe masked a bit more.
I think flash fiction often succeeds or fails by measure of its ending, the final image. You’ve nailed it here. Did it take you long to land on this last image, the dark hairs swirling down the shower drain?
As I mentioned, this all just kinda rushed out. It’s hard for me to remember how I ended up with that ending image. I do remember that while I was at Banff, I did a reading of this piece and afterwards a man came up to me and started telling me all about his partner’s body hair. I recall wondering if I should change the image so that I didn’t have to have these kinds of conversations. But also I guess there was something in it he was responding to. There’s a private almost embarrassed feeling I get when talking about body hair, and I find if I’m having those feelings, it’s usually an indication that there’s something to explore, something worth writing about, and so I kept the ending.
Interviewed by Cole Meyer