The Japanese rode into 南通 & confiscated all domesticated animals. Agong refused to give up his horse. He had no bullets so he slit its throat. I asked where a horse’s throat is located & he drew a picture of its long neck & tore open the place it spoke from. The horse wore its slit throat like a necklace of garnets. On a vacation in Japan, a restaurant served the local specialty, thin-sliced raw horsemeat. There were veins of fat in the flesh & Agong said: look how well it’s been fed. I’d rather be full & slaughtered than starve & survive.
Watermelon rind shredded with a cleaver & tossed with salt. That’s what we used to eat, Ma said, there wasn’t any money. From the sidewalk, they stole rinds shining with other people’s saliva. They stole from the neighbor’s dog bowls. You know how sad it is to steal from animals? The dog learned to bite & one day bit off my mother’s pinky. She flaunts it at parties, invents stories. In these stories, the dog attacks because it’s hungry & smells pork buns in her backpack, bricks of steak, deboned fish. In these stories, she is the one being stolen from.
K-Ming Chang / 張欣明 is a Kundiman fellow, a Lambda Literary Award finalist, and a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 honoree. She is the author of the debut novel BESTIARY (One World/Random House, 2020), which was longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize and named a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Her short story collection, RESIDENT ALIENS, is forthcoming from One World. She is currently the Micro editor at The Offing magazine. Her forthcoming chapbook, The Bone House is available for pre-order from Bull City Press.
Pidgeonholes is honored to publish three works of fiction by Ms. Chang: “Mercy,” “Basashi,” and “Watermelon Salad”. Associate Fiction Editor, April Bradley, interviewed Ms. Chang via email on February 23, 2021.
AB: The three micro pieces we are publishing by you, “Mercy,” “Basashi,” and “Watermelon Salad” hold tremendous transformative weight within them. Will you share a bit about these stories’ origins?
KC: Thank you for saying that! The idea of transformation and transformative language is deeply important to me. “Mercy” began as a fascination with Mongolian spots and the mythology behind them – the idea that they’re a bruise left behind by a god that kicks babies out of the womb, and that after a certain age you shed it. I was interested in exploring girl characters who refuse to shed theirs, who wear them as a kind of pride and playfulness and a refusal of chronology and maturity. “Basashi” and “Watermelon Salad” were part of a series of micros – I realized that the stories my family told naturally leant themselves to that micro form, and I was interested in exploring appetite and embodied violence through small stories that only gestured at generations of context. I often find that animals and themes of hunger and eating show up in my stories, usually accidentally – I can never seem to get away from them!
AB: In “Mercy,” the narrator and Sylvia become more than demigods; they are god-like with their wonderful Mongolian blue and green marks. The narrator offers hers to Sylvia as a kind of atonement, and Sylvia becomes transformed by it: “she stroked it with her thumb until the color came off, bluing her fingers, slurring her touch into a god’s.” This marvelous detail: touch is slurred rather than voice. “Basashi” presents another instance of deification. We meet a man, Agong, and his companion talking about a horse he was forced to slaughter. As Agong shares his experience, he admires a dish of fine horsemeat sashimi. “The horse wore its slit throat like a necklace of garnets” is the moment that changes the entire shape and tone of the piece. It’s the signal that reveals the horse as a god. In “Watermelon Salad,” humans and dogs are indistinguishable from one another, but it’s through story, through the telling that the woman and dog blur. Violence, tenderness, trauma, longing, and divinity work transformatively in your narratives. How does flash, constrained narrative space, help you achieve this?
KM: These are such beautiful observations! Thank you for transforming my work even in my own eyes – and thank you for seeing these threads of violence, tenderness, and longing! For me, poetry and flash fiction are very liberating forms that allow for a kind of release and expansiveness. That probably sounds really counterintuitive, since flash is a very short and condensed form, but discarding with traditional ideas of plot and character in longer fiction frees me to be wild on the page, to reach places that surprise or unravel me. There’s something very mythic to me about the flash format – maybe it’s because I encountered a lot of fables and myths written in micro form, like in Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio by Pu Songling, but there’s always so much room and space in small forms to be expansive, cosmic, sacred, and profane. Like in poetry, every word and every sentence is its own unit, and I love being able to think about language on those micro and macro levels.
AB: I heard you speak at Literary Cleveland’s Flash Fiction Festival opening panel. I’m recall how you were talking about your elusive 1,000-word paragraph-less story. Will you speak more about what all you think flash can do?
KC: Yes! I’m always trying to get away with stories without paragraphs, to varying degrees of success. There’s something about that headlong, unrelenting rush into language that really exhilarates me as a reader and a writer. I think that flash is limitless, and that it opens up these spaces and excavates things from my own memory and own language that I didn’t even know existed or that was possible – I feel like I’m hurtling toward an unknown, and that sense of surprise doesn’t always exist for me to the same extent with longer pieces. And I think that flash exists in even more forms than we think.
AB: How has your work as the micro editor at The Offing and as a teacher of flash influenced your own shorter form writing?
KC: It’s made me feel less guilty about constantly wanting to start a new flash piece instead of working on longer projects! It’s given me a real appreciation for the flash community and for the form, subverting this idea that only longer forms of writing are “valuable.”
AB: How do you conceive of character and story when you create flash narratives? How intentional is flash for you?
KC: This is a wonderful question! I usually begin with a voice or even just a first sentence – it’s usually a sense of curiosity, of wanting to know who is saying this or where this first sentence has emerged from. I usually have very little intention outside of a small fragment that has been obsessing me – either an anecdote I can’t let go of, or a series of phrases that startle me, or something strange or amusing that I can’t quite make sense of. As I write into that sense of doubt or uncertainty, usually more doubt emerges, but that’s usually more interesting than knowing where I’m going.
AB: I want to thank you for your recommendation of Marilyn Chin’s Revenge of the Mooncake Vixen. Are there any other recommendations you’d like to make to readers and writers of flash in particular?
KC: Yes! Venita Blackburn’s Black Jesus and Other Superheroes, Sandra Cisneros’ Woman Hollering Creek, and all of Manuel Munoz’s writing.
AB: It’s so exciting to hear about your forthcoming chapbook, Bone House, from Bull City Press. Congratulations! You mentioned that it’s your “fanfic/love of the gothic in tiny form” and “a queer Taiwanese-American micro-retelling of Wuthering Heights.” Please tell us more about it. I don’t want to forget to mention your forthcoming short fiction collection, Resident Aliens, from One World/Random House.
KC: Thank you for asking! Bone House is a micro-chapbook, part of an amazing series by Bull City Press called INCH, which showcases the micro form in both poetry and prose. It’s very tiny and is my ode to the gothic and to the drama of love stories and ghost stories – it was also a joy to reinvent the context and tropes. I really enjoyed experimenting with a different, slightly more antiquated voice. It was also just fun to work on a project with a smaller scope and structure! I’ve also been working on Resident Aliens, which is my current favorite thing I’ve ever worked on – I’m not sure if it’s any good, but it’s been so exciting to work on stories that are constantly shape-shifting.
AB: I’m confident these two collections will be a joy to read and an important contribution to literature. I’m eager to read them. Thank you once again for the interview, K-Ming. It’s been a pleasure discussing your work with you.
Photography by: Balazs Fejes