The structure of “Does the Pig?” is full of rhythm–it’s almost hypnotic, the way we keep going back to the same event and learn something new every time. What was your writing process like as the sentences expanded? How did you go about balancing the old and new information in each iteration?
I started with the fragment “does the pig?” Then I rewrote it a few times and gave myself the task of adding new information about the pig’s situation with each iteration. A few words, a clause or two. I wanted to see how long I could make the sentence, while still having it make sense as a question. New plotlines and connections surrounding the pig started to emerge (the farmer, the knife’s story, the teenage girls), so I applied the expansionary procedure to those parts of the sentence as well. Soon enough, phrases and clauses were sprouting up all over the place, and I was adding a lot to each iteration. This forced me into a balancing act between, basically, narrative and syntax. In theory, the sentence could have gone on expanding forever, but in practice I knew that at some point I had to get off the bus and answer the question.
What’s your favorite word that you use in “Does the Pig?”? (Is it the same as your favorite word in general?
I think it might be “iron.” By itself, “iron” isn’t such a beautiful word maybe, but I like the idea that the iron in the knife wants to abandon its function as a weapon and revert to harmless minerality. In general, I think there’s something poignant about fictional works that lend feelings and thoughts to inanimate objects: singing teapots, intelligent soot particles, toasters of modest stature that display certain cardinal virtues…
I’m not sure if it’s my favorite, but I’ve always liked the Yiddish word luftmensch, meaning “an impractical contemplative person.” It literally means “air person” and I identify with that description really a good deal more than I’d prefer. Another useful word is “murky.” It’s an honest and helpful word given that life, in my experience, is completely murky.
Who/what are you reading right now that you really enjoy?
I just reread Jen Craig’s novel Panthers and the Museum of Fire. The story follows Jen, a frustrated writer and delirious overthinker, as she walks from Glebe to inner Sydney, carrying the manuscript of her recently deceased childhood friend Sarah. But the true setting is Jen’s mind, inside the looping, recursive thoughts delivered in Craig’s hypnotic, memory-hopping sentences. The book is basically Jen’s unfolding reaction to reading the manuscript, which includes a reassessment of her friendship with Sarah, reflections on her anorexia, her brief conversion to Christianity, her years of artistic failure, and her tendency to withdraw into thinking as a dubious refuge from life’s many “interferences.” If this sounds like standard autofictional fare, it isn’t. Craig has a major style, one that contains all the complexity and gathering force of Thomas Bernhard without Bernhard’s loathing and madness; it’s geared more toward self-reflection and self-patterning than the slandering of existence. Craig is one of my favorite living fiction writers and I’m looking forward to her new book Wall. Incidentally, I think some of the best fiction writing in the Anglophone world today is coming out of Australia, e.g., Jen Craig, Jessica Au, Nicholas John Turner, Jack Cox…
Lastly, what are you working on right now? Or alternatively, do you have a favorite piece you’ve published elsewhere that we can link to?
I’m working on a novel about a sad park ranger who finds a mysterious egg. The book concerns his relationship with the egg and his half-hearted attempts to save a leatherback nesting beach from residential development. I’m trying to convince myself that it is a Symbolist novel, but it probably isn’t.
I’m also always trying to put together a short story collection. Here’s a link to a recent story: https://theadroitjournal.org/issue-forty-three/nick-story