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Author Chat: L.N. Holmes, Space, Collisions

Recently, I had the pleasure of reading Space, Collisions by L.N. Holmes, her recently released micro-chapbook of three flash-fiction pieces. Punchline? I loved it.

Space, Collisions, published by Ghost City Press as part of their 2018 Summer Micro-Chap Series, packs an incendiary punch inside of three short stories to leave the reader short of breath, but not on vivid images, resonant emotion, or explorative thoughts.

First up is When Continents Collide, a story about an agnostic man who faces the impending collision of Morocco and North Carolina alone after his family leaves him for the relative safety of the Midwest. He’s facing thoughts about life and death and also what happens when two societies and kinds of people—Americans and Middle Easterners—meet in a new sort of violence. The piece ends on an ambiguously hopeful note. The story itself is a quiet examination of our current social climate, one of Islamophobia, agoraphobia, perhaps a good many phobias. Despite the many layers and complexities it subtly presents, at its core, there’s a message of unity and acceptance.

Trace is a stunning, sensual short that reads like a prose poem. Holmes commands the prose here, creating visceral imagery that evokes feelings of yearning, wistfulness, sexuality, and despair.

Rounding out the trio of stories is Spacefall. Two scientists share a love of heavenly space, and their own personal space, punctuated by a secret that offers a surprising but gentle twist that evokes more of that sense of yearning and wistfulness Trace offered. 

It’s a short, smooth ride, but one that runs the gamut of emotions, all set against the backdrop of original story concepts and masterful, elegant prose.

You can download a copy of Space, Collisions, along with any other micro-chapbook from the 2018 summer series, here. Downloads are free, but donations to the authors are encouraged. Holmes is also hard at work creating a paperback version for those of us who prefer a more tactile reading experience. Follow Holmes on Twitter and Instagram, as well as on her website, to stay abreast of that release date, and all of her work.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Holmes recently to discuss Space, Collisions, writing rituals, what's next, and what she's reading. Read on for more.

Meredith Allison: Thanks for sitting down with me today! I just finished your chapbook, and I was blown away. Tell me about the concept of this chapbook, why you selected these three pieces, and why the space and collision themes?

L.N. Holmes: Hi, Meredith. Thank you so much for offering to chat with me. I’m a huge fan of your writing and I’m grateful you took the time to read Space, Collisions.

My micro-chapbook came into existence after I noticed the call for submissions from Ghost City Press. I appreciated the way the press supported and advocated for their poets and writers and I was hoping I could be included as a small part of their wonderful project. They’d been on my radar for a while and I loved their progressive approach to publishing, which was about creating a digital community for people to connect in ways that obstacles like physical distance often prevented.

It proved a difficult task when it came time to choose the stories I wanted to include in Space, Collisions. Ghost City Press gives their authors a lot of freedom regarding what they can put in their micro-chapbooks. This was both liberating and rather intimidating. I returned to other chapbooks I’d read in the past to see how they were formatted and to consider how the authors had grouped together similar types of stories and poems. For example, I’ve read and reviewed three of Emily Ramser’s poetry collections (I Forgot How to Write When They Diagnosed MeUhaul, and Conjuring Her) and those titles worked as helpful examples. Rowena Carenen’s collection of poems, In the Meantime, was also instructional. Arguably the most helpful was Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home by Shasta Grant because it was a well-ordered chapbook of very short stories. Other Ghost City Press micro-chapbooks gave me an idea of length. With all of these in mind, I began to critically assess the stories I had written. The ones I ended up choosing were the ones that deeply unsettled me for one reason or another. The themes that linked the stories ended up being about physical distance and intimate connection, presented in different forms. Thus, Space, Collisions was born.

I was so excited when Kevin Bertolero sent the email that informed me he Jack Bachmann had decided to include Space, Collisions in the 2018 Summer Micro-Chapbook Series. It’s been a fun ride. I’ve been reading all of the micro-chapbooks by the other poets and writers as they come out. I’ve been happy to discover new perspectives that I may not have had access to otherwise. The micro-chapbook series is a genius idea because it’s accessible to anyone who has access to a computer. Micro-chapbooks are bought through donations and that money goes directly to the author. It’s a win-win for everyone.

MA: I have to know. The ending to When Continents Collide—what happens?

Holmes: That’s exactly what I want the reader to contemplate and so I thank you for this question. The truth is, I left it ambiguous so it could remain hopeful. Anything definitive I had in mind felt too pessimistic or, if positive, too convenient. I wrote this story before the Trump era, but I was still grappling with the Islamophobia remaining after September 11, 2001. It was alarming to see how a religion with a rich history and a diverse people could be so reduced in the mouths of others. Not just by people who could be easily labeled as bigots but also by well-intentioned religious and non-religious people. As a Christian who studied the persecution of Jewish people throughout Europe—especially in Germany—it really unsettled me to see what was happening to Muslims in the United States. The conflicts in Syria only increased these fears.

The truth is when I sat down to write “When Continents Collide,” most of these ideas were not present in the forefront of my mind. But as the story began to develop, these connections began to reveal themselves to me. And it felt right. It felt convicting, which we need, but also kind of like a suggestion for the way we might be able to overcome the “shallows between us.”

MATrace is a very sensual story, probably the most sensual piece of writing of yours I’ve ever read. What inspired this piece? Do you find it easy or hard to tap into this level of sensuality? What message did you want to convey with this piece?

Holmes: I drafted “Trace” during the Nebraska Book Festival in 2015. I attended Laura Madeline Wiseman’s “You’re No Body Until Some Body Loves You: Writing the Body” workshop. Her excellent exercises encouraged sensual writing. I had a lot of fun with the process. Listening to the others share their work after we’d written felt immensely satisfying. Later, Wiseman encouraged me to submit some poetry to an anthology. Although that didn’t end up working out—I’m not very successful with my poems—“Trace” became a flash fiction I began to revise and believe in. I felt like I won the lottery when Mark Budman and Sue O'Neill decided to pick it up at Vestal Review.

To answer your second question: tapping into sensuality is both difficult and not difficult for me. What I mean is, creating engaging sensory detail takes a lot of work and conscious effort, but writing about sexual encounters is easy for me to do. I always try to include some sensory detail into a story for the reader’s sake. Sex I try to omit. Discussions about sex in the literary community are abundant and I’ve grown bored with its dominance in literature as a way for characters to connect with one another. I’m much more interested in platonic connections between siblings, friends, parents, and children, etc. I realize this is probably an unpopular opinion, but my reasons for feeling this way are complex. Still, sex is an important part of our lives, and sometimes I feel the need to write about it to make a story work. That was definitely true with “Trace.”

And concerning the “message” of this flash fiction, there is none really. There’s no moral of the story. I just felt the urge to write about unrequited love and self-obliteration. I used real events and relationships in my life as inspiration, but ultimately this is fiction and should be read as such.

MASpacefall has an interesting and beautiful twist at the end with some truly gorgeous imagery. What inspired you to write this piece? 

Holmes: Thank you! “Spacefall” was really fun to write. I wrote this piece as an assignment for my internship with Tethered by Letters. Although that didn’t mean it was automatically included in the Dually Noted community writing project. Indeed, my first submission was rejected (although I revised that piece later on and it was eventually picked up by Fathom Magazine). Each story was voted on for inclusion into the project. “Spacefall” happened to receive enough votes to make it in.

During the time I drafted this story, I was thinking a great deal about how truly intimate friendships can be. I’ve never been comfortable with some of the touchy-feely friendships I’ve seen others experience, but I’ve always been fascinated by them. Switching gears, I also really care about women involved in STEM careers and I don’t often see women scientists portrayed in a positive light within fiction or film. Combining these ideas—an intimate friendship and women scientists—is what inspired this little flash.

Also, I wanted to point out that I included the Lotus Elise Sport just for fun. As a kid, I went to a ton of car shows with my dad and grandpa and I played a ridiculous amount of Gran Turismo, and so now I’m always trying to sneak sports cars into my fiction. Sometimes I can get away with it.

MA: Tell me about your writing process. Do you have any interesting rituals or preferred spaces or times of day to create?

Holmes: I’m not sure I can describe it as a process, really. I feel like I’m waging war every time I sit down to write. I’m an individual who struggles with anxiety and so first I have to get over my fear of writing. I have to shut out all of the nagging voices that express things like, “You’re not talented enough to do this” or “Your ideas are uninteresting.” Every time I have an idea and I begin to write it, I have to struggle to overcome my doubts first.

When I get past that, things do not get easier. Much of the brainstorming I do is in my head. I can ruminate on a story for months. Sometimes those stories don’t make it to the page.

When a story does make it to the page, I usually write and rewrite the beginning obsessively. It’s important to me to hook the reader right away and not waste their time. If I’m lucky, I’ll make it past the beginning to the rest of the story.

Often I will take a heavily revised draft to a couple of friends or to a workshop group. After they point out all of the flaws, I set the piece aside and think about their suggestions. When I’m ready, I pick the piece back up again and revise based on their feedback. This too seems to take a ridiculous amount of time.

The only exception I can think of when it comes to this long and arduous process is with “When Continents Collide.” It is the only story I wrote as if possessed. I couldn’t quit writing it. I gained no relief until all of it was on the page and revised to my liking, which was in a relatively short time. I’ve never had this happen to me before or since.

All I know is I have to keep pushing myself to experiment and try new things. Writing for me is like a bad habit that I can’t break. But there are no rituals or preferences when it comes to my writing. I force myself to write and I do it wherever I am. Otherwise, I’d never get anything down. I also write when I’m not supposed to because I have a bad memory and I have to record stuff immediately or risk losing it. I’ve written whole stories during dates, class lectures, music recitals, family parties, funerals—you name it and I’ve probably done it. I carry a notebook and pen with me everywhere. For me, this is a profession and a lifestyle that can’t be contained in an office. Although I do have a nice office space now, which has also been helpful. But I can’t be in there all the time, or I begin to feel stifled.

MA: What’s next for you?

Holmes: I’d like to get a full-length chapbook and—eventually—a book of short stories published. My goal is to increase my projects in size until I get to a novel. We’ll see if that strategy works or not.

MA: What are you currently writing?

Holmes: I’m revising a speculative short story about a radio that broadcasts assassination plots. I’m going to do something really scary with it—I’m going to try and use third person omniscient. I’m also doing some other major overhauls to the plot and characters. It’s one of those stories that I can’t get out of my head and it’s far from done.

I also want to write more Christian fiction, science fiction, and fantasy. I’ve drafted the start of a new Christian fiction story in one of my many notebooks, so we’ll see where that goes. I have many speculative stories I’m trying to revise, including one with an extremely experimental form, but it’s a matter of figuring out the issues with each story.

I have a handful of traditional literary stories out for submission and I’m hoping they get picked up. I’ve received lots of good feedback from editors but, so far, no acceptances.

I’m always working on a novel. Aren’t most writers?

MA: What are you currently reading?

Holmes: I’m reading all of the Ghost City Press micro-chapbooks, Troublersby Rob Walsh, Wonderbookby Jeff VanderMeer, and a few other craft and grammar books. I recently finished The Gunnersby Rebecca Kauffman, The Blurry Years by Eleanor Kriseman, and Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique.

I’m also beta reading this novel right now and, let me just tell you, it’s awesome. I can’t wait until it’s released into the world.