Author Interview: ‘The Predatory Animal Ball’ by Jennifer Fliss

About the Book:

In a society where predators are always the ones doing the celebrating, Jennifer Fliss’s debut collection of short stories, THE PREDATORY ANIMAL BALL, crashes the party. These stories are about the people left in the predators’ wake, and the large and small ways in which their grief and fear manifest. Predators appear in the places we least expect it, and this collection turns the previously accepted hierarchies upside down in a series of flash fiction that are often absurd, but always cutting.

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Purchase Links:

Amazon – UK / US

Author Interview:

1: Tell us a little about yourself and what got you in to writing?

I got into writing as a way to process my childhood experiences. I lived in a home filled with abuse and neglect, and I felt so lonely, both during my childhood and in my young adulthood. As a twenty-something year old, trying to figure out my life (and in the aftermath of my father’s death), I began to write fictionalized versions of my experience. They were close to the truth, but I wasn’t yet comfortable with writing it all out so plainly. After doing this, I realized I loved writing, creating. So, I then moved on to writing all kinds of short stories and my fiction took off. My mother says I wrote stories as a kid; I don’t remember that. But I did create worlds: drafting maps of made-up towns that covered the floors of my living room, creating entire school rosters of made-up people, etc. It was elaborate, and not something I told people until recently. I know that was storytelling in a way and certainly must have had an impact on my writing later.

2: Do you have a favourite time and place where you write?

I wish I could say I write in the early hours at a desk by a window looking out into a wood, but I just write when I feel inspired. This is, fortunately, often enough for good output, but I don’t have a writing routine. I do my best writing on my laptop in bed or in a cozy chair. Ideally, it’s raining out and I have the window open, a mocha beside me and the cat — always the cat — in my lap.

3: Where do your ideas come from?

They truly come from all over. Quite a few are sourced from my dreams, which are vivid — often wretched and terrifying, but interesting. I find inspiration almost everywhere. Back of a cereal box, an advertisement on the subway, an overheard snippet of conversation, the tilt of a crow’s neck.

4: Do you have a plan in your head of where the story is going before you start writing or do you let it carry you along as you go?

I let the story carry me. My work generally starts with a word, idea, or sentence. I put that down and then see what happens. If my brain and fingers can see a path, it just flies out. If it’s harder, sometimes I close the file. I may or may not return to it. Hence I have a zillion partially-done stories and ideas. 

5: What genre are your books and what drew you to that genre?

My writing is literary fiction. I love ghost stories, mysteries, and thrillers. I am a big fan of when these three genres merge, as in Carmen Maria Machado or Helen Oyeyemi’s work. I’ve always been drawn to the dark: ghosts, haunted houses, abandoned places. I am a sucker for setting. Give me any of the aforementioned settings and it almost doesn’t matter what the story is. I love to immerse myself in place. 

6: What dream cast would you like to see playing the characters in your latest book?

Melissa McCarthy. She’s an incredible actress. She is hilarious, yes, but she can also hit so many layers of humanity. I think she would service many of my protagonists well, who are often women in dire but absurd situations. As for the supporting characters? I don’t know. Maybe it’s Melissa McCarthys all the way down.

7: Do you read much and if so who are your favourite authors?

I read lots. I used to read more before smart phones! (I really hate that invention.) But I read about a book or so a week. I’m always on the hunt for mysteries that are well written and not formulaic. I utilize my library a LOT. I’m the one with an entire shelf labeled with my name in the holds section. I don’t have one or two favorite authors per se, but there are authors whom I’ll always read a new book of theirs: Yoko Ogawa, Dara Horn, Samantha Irby, Kiese Laymon, Karen Russell. Of late, I’m excited about Morgan Jerkins, T Kira Madden, VE Schwab, Nafissa Thompson-Spires, Deesha Philyaw, and Diane Cook. I could go on and on actually. I’m certain I’ve missed some names here.

8: What book/s are you reading at present?

The People of Paper by Salvador Plascencia. It was recommended by a great writer peer, Dana Diehl. It’s magic realism written mostly in triptychs using different narrators. The entire novel uses really unusual narration and style. I love fabulism and magic realism. I love unique styles of writing. Reading it is fun and makes you realize that writing is truly an art (even when it’s straight prose). Writing in an experimental/hybrid style is a great way to expose the absurdities of the world we live in and the possibilities are endless because your imagination is the limit. 

I also just finished a graphic work called Seek You by Kristen Radtke. The subtitle is “A Journey Through American Loneliness,” but I think most people in the world can relate to it. It was so poignant and timely. It’s amazing what people can do with fewer words and visual elements. Highly recommend!

9: What is your favourite book and why?

I don’t have a favorite book and I don’t reread books. There are just too many good books to read. I only have so many years in my life! But E.L. Konisburg’s From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler was probably the most influential book on me. It’s a middle grade book about siblings whose parents are divorcing, so the kids go off to live in a museum in New York for a while. The setting was such a huge part of that book that I’ve never forgotten the images in my head — that stayed with me as a writer and impacted how I write setting and probably is connected to why I love setting so much. It was an escape for these children, and I was reading it at a time when I desperately could’ve used such an escape. It was literal escape coinciding with the escape that good literature can provide. 

10: What advice would you give for someone thinking about becoming a writer?

Writing is a compulsion for so many of us. I don’t know many — maybe any that I know of — of folks who think about doing it or not. You just…do it. One is a writer if you write. It doesn’t necessitate a list of publication credits. For someone who wants to publish their writing, there are myriad paths. My suggestion is to start reading literary journals (most are online now) and get a feel for where their own writing might fit. There are journals that skew straight narrative, some love pop culture, some like a good ghost story, or experimental styles. Figure out where your writing fits and then click “submit!” Rejections are part of the game; you have to expect them. Even the very best writers get turned down. But as you move on, keep writing, learning, and submitting, then you should have success with publishing. As a writer, be open to learning. If you submit and get rejected over and over, it could be that your work isn’t a good fit, but it also could mean you could stand to learn a few things. Don’t get cocky. There’s always more to learn, more that can enhance your work. And of course, the best teacher is to read, read, read. 

11: What are the best Social Media Sites for people to find out about you and your work?

Twitter. Hands down. At first, I didn’t get it. But it’s been integral for learning about other writers, editors, journals, and opportunities. Just be sure to mute or block liberally and cultivate your own feed. Twitter is my only public social media account and it works for me. I’d love to see y’all there!

Twitter: @writesforlife

About the Author:

Jennifer Fliss has been nominated several times for both the Pushcart Prize and the Best of the Net, and her work has been selected for the 2019 Best Small Fictions anthology. Her stories and essays have appeared in print and online at The Citron Review, F(r)iction,, Jellyfish Review, Necessary Fiction, PANK, The Rumpus, The Washington Post, and elsewhere. She was a 2018/2019 Pen Parentis Fellow, a recipient of the 2019 Artist Trust GAP award, and is currently working on her first (and second) novel.

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