Blake Kimzey’s chapbook Families Among Us (Black Lawrence Press, 2014), is a collection of stories about transformation. Six stories nod to the magic of the natural world though surreal changes in its characters. “The boy grew like a regular boy… though each successive year his back curved more noticeably and his wings became stronger and his appetite larger.” Kimzey’s changelings sprout wings, slither on ringed bellies, grow snouts, claws, and fur; they carry full galaxies in their cheeks. His stories have been called, “beautifully written universes” and they are exactly that. We spoke with the author about his collection, below.
Author Interview: Blake Kimzey
My first introduction to Families Among Us was “The Boy and The Bear,” which we published in May. It’s a story (on the most basic level) about a boy who turns into a bear. At the time I didn’t know about the other stories, but “The Boy and The Bear” is part of an incredibly cohesive collection. I’m curious: when did you write this piece? Which story in the collection was first? And when did you begin to recognize these stories were part of a larger whole?
Thank you for such kind words about the collection, Kim. And thank you for publishing “The Boy and The Bear” as part of Short Story Month earlier this year. The stories in Families Among Us are close to me, the kind of stories I write when I want a break from the longer, realist fiction I normally write (splitting my time between dark comedy and fiction about the Iraq War). With each of the stories in my chapbook I started with an image, which is not the way I usually begin (with a character or a premise). For “The Boy and The Bear” that image was simply a boy nose-to-nose with a bear. When I zoomed out they were lost somewhere in a winter-crisp forest. And then I simply wanted to know how the boy and the bear ended up like that, and I wanted to know what their relationship was. As with all writing, it became an investigation. Image led to premise and then I felt comfortable. I tried to rewind the story from that moment and I found the boy in a village and then locked in a cellar. As it turns out, this was the fifth piece I wrote in the collection, giving me a handful of stories that felt connected. All of them are set in what looks and feels like the real world, but the characters give it a magical quality. I wrote “Up and Away” first after re-reading Metamorphosis when I was waiting to hear back from grad programs spring 2011. A bit of anxiety made my writing feel stale and I needed to change things up, and so I wrote fully into a new kind of imagination for me, and it has been the best thing for my writing practice, to have this outlet. All told it took me two and a half years to write these six very short stories. They take longer for me to imagine and write than the fiction I tend to write, and are influenced by Kafka, Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Aimee Bender, Roald Dahl, and Angela Carter. I don’t know what is going to happen anytime I sit down to write, a feeling that is doubled when I can’t shake an image that begs investigation. Writing a short tale reminds me you can do anything in fiction, magical realism or otherwise. I wrote “And Finally the Tragedy” last and when it was complete I knew I had a short collection I could send out to chapbook competitions.
Lets talk about some of the elements that tie these stories together. First, none of your characters have names. Instead they are the mother, the boy, the man, the girl, etc. Where did that choice come from? To me it contributes a fable-like quality to these stories, and allows characters to be any person for any reader. At the same time it develops a purposeful distance. How did you intend for the not-named characters to be received?
I wanted to keep a healthy distance from the characters in each of these stories so that the audience would actually feel closer to them. That makes no sense, but I wanted to give the reader enough room to make part of the story their own, to cede some of the imaginative work to the audience. When I encounter a character with no name I feel that gives me license as a reader to make a few of my own determinations about who/what they are within the context of everything else the author gives me. And for me the best way to do that as an author was to keep the cast nameless. It also felt like a directive for the audience to read the stories as tales, and maybe even to shoulder more of the emotional freight as they read along. This was a story-by-story decision that gathered into a meaningful choice for the collection as a whole. I wanted the characters to feel particular on the physical level and within individual family units, but I also wanted them to feel unconstrained by the specificity that naming brings. One of the things I love most about writing a great character is choosing the perfect name. A name can take a character all the way to the end, but in these stories it felt like the absence of that particularity was an essential component to sparking the emotional charge in each story. For me, the absence of a name also contributed to the sense of timelessness I wanted to convey in each story. (more…)