On Monday, we were fortunate enough to publish Tanya Perkins’s expansive “Agora é Sempre”, the winner of our 2021 Flash Fiction Contest, as selected by Stuart Dybek. Today, we bring you an interview with winner, conducted by assistant editor Melissa Hinshaw. Enjoy!
Who would have thought that the journey of a pair of sandals could be so captivating! Tell us how you captured the swirling feel of “Agora é Sempre” through your sentence-level and pace-level decisions in these five pages.
I was interested in creating a story that was both deep and broad in scope and yet highly concentrated in form. I love long sentences—English syntax lends itself to creating the kind of horizon-to-horizon sweep that we associate with Faulkner and Franzen—yet for me, they only work when they are densely packed.
If this story had “parents”—other authors, stories, books, or even movies or songs— what would they be? How did this story get bred?
I’m a science nerd wannabe, especially in connection with quantum mechanics. At the subatomic level, things get wacky real fast, at least when viewed through the lens of what we might call “reality.” And so I’ve been very interested in thinking about quantum entanglement from different angles, employing the “what-if.” As far as other books, Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Cosmos has fueled a lot of creative speculation, along with writers like Italo Calvino and Joy Williams.
We got some environmentalist vibes from “Agora é Sempre”—was this a conscious theme or even a direct goal you had when writing this story? How is this something that shows up in your writing?
Yes, it was conscious. I remember reading about how flipflops, of all things, are a huge part of plastic pollution, especially ocean plastic. It’s not just that they are made with toxic chemicals (often in developing countries, where environmental standards are not enforced as much) but that they are resistant to biodegrading, and end up in rivers and, of course, the ocean where they can swirl around in the garbage gyres almost forever—they are, in a literal way, very nearly children of eternity. And weirdly, I started thinking about it from the viewpoint of the flipflops who, as inanimate objects, are not themselves to blame. One of the things I love about this story is that they are “rescued” and made useful again. I think that is a hopeful image.
We end on such an ominous note that our team read several meanings into. What all would you say is “very wrong indeed” when we reach that final line?
It’s a line that works on multiple levels. What is wrong, for Gabrielle in the immediate moment, is that her wife is missing (well, dead). But in a larger sense, the “wrongness” extends far beyond that to where children are pressed into working just to eat, if not into illegal activity, to where illegal fishing depletes resources and where our oceans are being glutted with plastics and other toxic materials.
One wonderful strength of this story is these characters, who pop in just briefly and yet feel so whole. Are these characters you have written more of in other pieces, or are they all making debut appearances here?
This story is part of a larger collection of hybrid pieces I am currently working on, and yes, they reappear in other stories!
Interviewed by Melissa Hinshaw