When Lindsay Hunter’s first book, Daddy’s, came out, I found myself directing numerous readers to her story “Kid.” Foul-mouthed, alive with prose, and occasionally hilarious, it followed a teenage boy’s adventures on a trip to a local convenience store, growing progressively more surreal (and boundary-pushing) as it progressed towards its climax. Hunter’s command of language, setting, and character continue with her new collection, DON’T KISS ME. Here, the characters are often delusional: in “Our Man,” a hapless detective badly investigating a murder; in “My Boyfriend Del,” a woman is convinced she’s dating a nine-year-old boy. Yet Hunter’s work manages to evoke the grotesque without ever seeming contemptuous — no small achievement. Hunter and I discussed her collections, her forthcoming novel, and much more via email.
DON’T KISS ME features many of the same qualities as your earlier collection Daddy’s. Where do you see the two books diverging from one another?
I feel like Daddy’s was mostly centered around childhood, and coming of age, whereas DON’T KISS ME feels very much of the adult world. The sameness, I think, comes from the loneliness of the characters, and all the ways in which they recognize, deny, or nurture it. I’d say loneliness is basically my obsession as a writer.
As evocative as the events described in your stories are, they’re matched by the voices telling those stories. Does one come before the other for you?
Most of the time, it starts with a line that pops into my head that is spoken in a very specific voice. I type that line and then I type another, and the story builds from there. Rarely, I’ll end up deleting those first lines. Every once in a while I’ll see an image, or have an idea I want to explore further, and I’ll try to write toward it. A lot of the time that image ends up being the final image in the story; I have to write just to get there. I remember this one moment in grad school, when my advisor said, “Now you’re truly seeing.” I nodded like I understood but I didn’t, not for a while. But what he meant was instead of forcing it, instead of building the story like it was made of Lego, I sat back and saw what was there and wrote that instead. A lot of that comes from trusting yourself, trusting that you have stories worthy of writing and, even more so, worthy of reading.
How did you come up with the structure of “Our Man”?
I wanted to re-tell this real life story of a woman whose sister had murdered the woman’s husband, and I wanted it to be noir-ish but modern. The way I saw it was like being in a room with it all laid out before me, only the room had a single dingy bulb that swung from one corner to the other, so I could only see so much of it at one time. Kind of like being in an interrogation room, I guess? So I wanted to write those flashes of illumination, and I wanted to show how the characters evolved parallel to each other. As I wrote it became clear that I was both taking very seriously and pointing a clown nose at these tropes of detective fiction, and it occurred to me that maybe it was all one big joke I was telling. The joke that’s inserted inside the story is kind of a guide for how to read the story in general–it lets you know it’s okay to laugh, it’s okay to go along with it, but the punchline isn’t what you thought.
With the childhood into adulthood progression in your two collections, I’m curious whether you’re finding this to also be the case for the stories you’ve written since then. Is there still a progression present, or do you find that they’re now evolving in a different way?
I’ve been largely working on a novel, so I haven’t written too many stories! It’s sad. But I’d say the ones I have been able to write feel evolved in terms of the language I’m interested in using. Like I’m taking the broken china language of my old stuff and grouting them into whole sentences, but you still feel the breaks? I get sick of myself, is the thing. Every image feels like I’m showing my ass, so it’s a challenge to not feel that way. Another thing that’s happening is how often motherhood creeps in. I guess that’s not all that surprising, but as someone who’s written a lot of weird baby stories, man do things change once you have your own weird baby.
You’re also working on a novel, if memory serves — can you talk at all about that?
I am, indeed! It’ll be out in the fall of 2014, also on FSG. It’s a whole other thing, writing like that. A welcome challenge to preserve the immediacy I crave while also maintaining the narrative. I keep that old trope in my head about writing the kind of novel I’d like to read, so I hope I’m at least achieving that. I write in flash fiction-y bursts, around 2,000 words at a time, and each is from the perspective of one of the five characters. So in that way it’s similar to writing stories, and it helps. And I remember telling this cabbie that Amelia Gray, who was also in the cab, was a novelist. “How do you do it?” he asked, and seemed like he genuinely wanted to know. “Oh,” she said, “you just write a little at a time.” I think of that a lot.
Do you tend to set your fiction in familiar settings, or have there been some cases where you’ve looked towards spaces that were more foreign to you?
I don’t think I consciously set them anywhere…I kind of figure out the setting as I go. But I guess that means the settings end up being places I feel familiar with, or places I’ve been. Maybe that feels like an avalanche of sameness to a reader, but I really hope not. I will say that in the novel I’m working on there are scenes set in a jail, and that feels very foreign, and I worry about that. Like, how I’m writing the interiors feels natural, but to a reader, will it feel like a totally made up place? Like I’ve never seen a jail before? I try hard not to force anything, or show my hand, so I hope those scenes have a hearty level of authenticity despite my paltry real-life experience in jails.
Your stories have included elements like a woman’s imagined relationship with a nine-year-old, and an invisible dog fence used for a very different purpose. Do you consider what you’re writing to fall under the heading of transgressive fiction (a la Dennis Cooper, et al.)?
I don’t personally consider them “transgressive,” but I could definitely see why people would think that. The women in the stories you mentioned popped into my head and I wanted to see what was what, so I started writing. I didn’t set out to write something weird or provocative, but then again, how could it not be? If I think of my work objectively, sometimes I find myself wondering what’s wrong with me. Why can’t I write a story about a normal person eating a sandwich? I guess because what I write, when I’m writing it, feels normal. Feels fun. Exciting. Feels like it’s mine. So maybe it is transgressive in that way, in that mine mine mine way.
In the interview you recently did with The Short Form, you wrote about the effect that Florida has had on your fiction. Have you found that Chicago has had a similar influence on the fiction you’ve written?
It definitely has! The support and acceptance I’ve gotten in Chicago are the only reasons I get to have books published. I owe everything to Chicago, much in the same way I owe everything to Florida. Chicago let me into its lit community with open arms, it let me change it in small ways, it changed me in important ways. I learned how to read from reading here. I learned there was an audience for the stories I had to tell. I’m so grateful for the generosity I’ve experienced as a writer in Chicago, for the way it’s challenged me, made me lay claim to my voice. I don’t know that I’d have gotten there if I’d stayed in Florida. My mentor in undergrad, the poet Terry Thaxton, told me I had to go to SAIC, had to move to Chicago, otherwise I wouldn’t change, and change is so important to a writer. It ended up being so true!
Photo: Zach Dodson