A Writer’s Insight: Karin Lin-Greenberg

Karin Lin-Greenberg’s story, “Escapees,” appears in the Winter 2023 issue of The Southern Review. In this interview Karin discusses fugitive monkeys, gas stations as setting, writing complex characters in fiction, and more.

Zach Shultz, editorial assistant: When I first read “Escapees,” I found myself rooting for your protagonist, even though the obstacles she faces seem insurmountable, at best. How did this character first come to you? 

Karin Lin-Greenberg: Usually I start writing a story with a character in mind, but this time the story was inspired by something in the news. In January 2022, a truck crashed on a highway in Pennsylvania. The truck was carrying one hundred monkeys that were being taken to a research lab in Florida. Four monkeys escaped after the crash, three were quickly captured, and a day after the crash one of the monkeys was still missing. The three monkeys who were found were euthanized, and it was clear that if the fourth monkey was found, it would also be euthanized. I wasn’t sure what was worse: being euthanized or spending a lifetime in a cage as a research subject.

So I was thinking of an escaped monkey and about who might find this monkey and whether this person could give the monkey a better life. It’s all really impossible from the start, though, from the climate the monkey has escaped into (in the story I changed the setting from Pennsylvania to a cold and snowy winter in upstate New York, which would be difficult for an animal from a tropical climate to thrive in), to the space and resources required to care for what is essentially a wild animal. I like your use of the word “insurmountable” here because both characters are facing insurmountable obstacles. Both of them have situations and people to escape, and I wanted to think about whether the characters could help each other in some way.

ZS: Lulu, a fugitive monkey the protagonist finds and decides to harbor in her secluded cabin in upstate New York, is one of the story’s main characters. You have previously written stories featuring animals—such as “Roland Raccoon” in your second story collection Vanished. Where does your knack for writing animals as characters come from? 

KLG: I think in real life how someone treats animals reveals a lot about who they are. Someone who is kind to animals often tends to be a kind person. Someone who is cruel to animals is likely to exhibit cruel behavior in other aspects of their lives. So I think putting characters in fiction in contact with animals is a way to characterize. The protagonist of “Escapees” is someone who hopes for the best, even though she’s had to deal with a lot of difficulties in her life. She’s smart enough to know she can’t harbor a fugitive monkey forever, but she hopes that somehow things will work out and she and Lulu can go on living together undiscovered.

I think the relationship the protagonist develops with Lulu shows her desperation for connection and interaction. While many people her age (twenty-two) would spend their free time with friends and family, all the protagonist has is Lulu, and she’s content to watch nature videos and documentaries with her on her phone. The protagonist desires companionship, and she gets that from Lulu.

The protagonist had to leave a job she loved working in a hospital cafeteria because she’s hiding from an abusive ex-boyfriend. She misses talking to and comforting nervous and upset people who have come for a meal or a snack in the cafeteria and are worried about their loved ones who are being treated in the hospital. Caring for Lulu allows the protagonist to feel helpful and useful once again.

ZS: I found the theme of compassion, in all its possibilities and limits, to be one of the most poignant, and devastating, aspects of this story. Your narrator remembers her late grandmother saying, “[P]eople are usually the way they are because of what they’ve gone through in life, and if you can think about [that]  . . . you can end up feeling compassion toward them.” What is this story trying to say about compassion and what it means to be a compassionate person in the world today? 

KLG: For me, one of the main projects of writing fiction is to figure out why characters behave the way they do. I’m interested in their pasts and what has shaped them, and I think oftentimes even a character who is difficult or awful in some way has a reason—which often isn’t apparent on the surface—for their behavior. I’m not sure the story is saying something in general about compassion in the world today, but I did want to create a character who can be compassionate toward others, even though the world has treated her unfairly in many ways. I think the narrator could have easily become someone who is driven by bitterness and anger, yet instead she’s kind and compassionate.

I was thinking her way of seeing the world was shaped by her grandmother, who was an important figure in her childhood. I didn’t include a lot in the story about the narrator’s parents, but they’ve moved away and don’t have much to do with the protagonist. When she thinks about how to be in the world, she thinks back to what her grandmother taught her. Her favorite place to visit is a spot in the woods her grandmother used to bring her when she was a child, so I wanted to show that the fact that she keeps returning to this place and eventually brings Lulu there shows how influential and important her grandmother was.

The protagonist hopes to be a guide and a source of comfort for Lulu, much like her grandmother was for her. I think compassion is one of the biggest characterizing traits of the protagonist. She’s willing to give up a lot, both financially and in terms of her own safety, in order to attempt to give Lulu a good life.

ZS: The workplace as setting is another important element of “Escapees.” In another interview you state, “I think the type of work someone does . . . reveals a lot about character.” What does Stewart’s, a gas station and convenience store in the story, reveal about the characters who work there? 

KLG: In this particular story, I was thinking of the narrator’s job less as characterizing her but forcing her to spend many hours every week in a space that constrains her. I liked the idea of a gas station as a setting because it’s a place people stop and fuel up on their way to somewhere else. And yet the narrator is stuck there day after day because she both needs a steady income and doesn’t have enough money to make a significant geographic move.

I was thinking of this space as an echo to Lulu having been trapped in a cage in the truck and later being caged in the narrator’s home. An animal in a cage can watch people outside come and go and might even wonder where they’re going. The narrator is likewise a trapped observer in a small space during her workday. She’s also stuck with her annoying coworker, Noreen, in this space. I wanted the cramped quarters of their workplace to amplify tension between the characters.

This space is also dangerous for the narrator. People filter in and out of the convenience store at the gas station, and she’s always on guard that her dangerous ex—whom she’s hiding from—might either find her or just stumble upon her if he comes inside to pay for gas or buy a drink. If given the choice, she would have preferred a workplace where she could be hidden away. Occupying this small and exposed space reveals her desperation to simply have a job—any job that would hire her—so she could support herself.

ZS: Speaking of coworkers, your protagonist’s relationship with Noreen creates tension throughout the story in such an effective way. At one point, the narrator says, “I know I’m doing something cruel, preying on Noreen’s desperation to be liked, her desperation for companionship, but what else can I do?” As readers, we understand the dramatic irony in this statement, since the narrator is also “desperate for companionship.” Tell us more about how you develop complex characters like Noreen. 

KLG: Thanks for describing Noreen as complex. I wanted her to be annoying and nosy and self-involved, yet also someone who was not only these things. She’s a clear antagonist in this story, and her actions put the narrator and Lulu in jeopardy, but I also wanted her to be a round character. You’re right that in many ways, she’s not that different from the narrator. Like the narrator, she wants to connect with people, and she’s been disappointed by the people in her life. There are some quick clues in the story about how her husband and children have essentially abandoned her, and I hope these details help readers understand that ultimately she’s a sad and lonely person.

A lot of the details about Noreen emerged in revisions. At first, I was just thinking of her as an obstacle in the protagonist’s life, but then I thought about how she could be more complicated and included information about her past and how others who work at Stewart’s treat her in the present. This is a passage I added in a late revision:

I think about what I was told by Cam, the night shift manager, during my first week of work, about the party Noreen threw last summer. She invited everyone who worked at Stewart’s to her house and no one went. Cam drove by her house and saw her in her backyard, standing over the grill, a pile of hot dogs and hamburgers in buns on a table next to her. And then he drove by an hour later and that pile was still there and Noreen was sitting at a table with her head in her hands, surrounded by a dozen two-liter bottles of Diet Coke and Sprite. I wanted to ask Cam why he made the effort to drive by her house twice, why he couldn’t have found it in himself to stop the car and go eat a hot dog and drink some Sprite.

My hope is the image of Noreen sitting alone after making all that effort to throw a party for her coworkers builds a little sympathy for her. The image of a dozen two-liter bottles is meant to show she invited a lot of people, was hopeful they’d all come, and none of those people showed up. What I think Noreen doesn’t understand is why no one wants to spend time with her; she doesn’t have the self-awareness to understand that it’s her actions and comments that drive others away.

ZS: The narrator in this story is full of loneliness and longing. Can you talk about the choice to write in first person from an unnamed narrator’s point of view? 

KLG: I thought the character needed to be unnamed because she doesn’t have many significant interactions and the customers she sees at work likely don’t know her name. She’s hiding and kind of anonymous in the world right now. Probably the thing she’d like best is to be surrounded by people who are close to her who call her by her name. I imagine her grandmother, the person she was closest to but has passed away, was someone who called her by her name (and perhaps a nickname) often. To me, the choice to not name her links with her loneliness. We don’t really see her interacting in the story with anyone who would know her name, so there aren’t opportunities for her name to be said aloud. And of course Lulu can’t say her name.

I think a story of this length might be unwieldy in third person if I used only a pronoun for the protagonist or called her something like “the young woman” throughout. First person point of view allowed me to keep her unnamed. I suppose I could have achieved this in second person as well, but I also wanted to capture her voice directly, so I settled on first person.

ZS: Your debut novel, You Are Here, was published this month. First of all, congratulations! What can readers expect from this book, and what was it like to make the shift from writing short story collections to a full-length novel?  

KLG: Thank you! It was challenging in some ways to move from writing stories to writing a novel. I’ve struggled in the past to write in this longer form and have two novels I consider unsuccessful tucked away on my hard drive somewhere. I had trouble sustaining a longer narrative in the past because I was so used to writing short stories, so this time I wanted to be really conscious of creating an overarching plot that could drive the novel forward while still keeping the book character driven.

 You Are Here is about a mall that’s closing in a suburb of Albany, New York, and it follows five characters who all have some sort of relationship to the mall, including several who work at the mall. The novel spans the ten months leading up to the mall’s closing. Each of these five characters is a third-person point-of-view character, and the chapters rotate between their perspectives. The throughline in the novel is the closing of the mall and what each character will do after it closes and they lose their jobs and community there, but each character also grapples with individual conflicts that are unrelated to the mall’s closing. Dealing with these individual conflicts in the chapters devoted to each character felt almost like I was writing short stories; although each chapter dealt with the larger conflict of the mall’s impending closure, I was also able to play with smaller, daily conflicts the characters experience.

I hope one of the elements that echoes between “Escapees” and You Are Here is the compassion you mentioned in an earlier question. I wanted the characters in the novel to be able to feel compassion for each other (often not initially, but after they come to know each other), and as a writer, I wanted to delve enough into their backstories and motivations in order for readers to understand them deeply and, I hope, have compassion for them too.

Karin Lin-Greenberg’s first story collection, Faulty Predictions, won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction from the University of Georgia Press, and her second story collection, Vanished, won the Prairie Schooner Raz-Shumaker Book Prize and was published in September 2022 by the University of Nebraska Press. Her novel, You Are Here, is out now from Counterpoint. She currently teaches creative writing at Siena College in upstate New York.

Zach Shultz is a current MFA Candidate in Creative Writing at Louisiana State University and former nonfiction editor for New Delta Review. He is a 2019 Lambda Literary nonfiction fellow and a 2022 Indiana University Writers’ Conference fiction fellow. His work has appeared in Lit Hub, Electric Literature, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere.

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A Writer’s Insight: Bernardo Wade

Bernardo Wade’s poem, “God Made Dirt, & Dirt Ain’t Popeyes,” appears in the Autumn 2022 issue of The Southern Review. Here, Bernardo discusses the importance of family and place in his work, along with his favorite food at Popeyes.

Zach Shultz, editorial assistant: You open the poem with a note about your decision to use the sestina form. Can you tell us about that decision, and for readers unfamiliar with this form, can you talk more about why you chose the sestina as a container for this particular poem? 

Bernardo Wade: In a way my decision was coaxed, or, maybe, I was lucky someone else loved me enough to suggest something outside of my comfort zone. It was near the tail end of an MFA workshop when another poet, on Zoom, shouted out of nowhere, “Bernardo! I think you should write a sestina!” To be fair, we were giving each other prompts, but I did ask myself at the time, “Why a sestina?”

I had a vague understanding of its constraints, knowing, similar to the villianelle or ghazal, that if I was to repeat the same words at the end of a line, it should be interesting, maybe surprising. Then another poet said, “Don’t be boring! Break the form!” Class ended, and from the dining room of my mother’s kitchen in New Orleans—remember, we were on Zoom—I started playing around with the form.

I remember thinking if I could get a kind of conversational tone down alloyed with a certain rhythm, the repeated word would feel less protrusive. There was a Popeyes box sitting on the counter, and I started thinking about what buttermilk was and who thought to dip chicken in it. Eventually, I had the first draft of this poem.

When an idea for a poem starts to bloom in your mind, do you already have a form in mind, or does the poem itself dictate which form you ultimately choose to bring it to life? 

For the most part, I try to get language down that might surprise me. When the content reveals something I hadn’t thought of before, maybe then I start considering the form. For this poem, I’m indebted to Aurielle Marie’s “Unlike Every Other Poem I Found You In” published by Split Lip Magazine. I almost forgot about my sestina, then I read theirs, and thought, Wow, I really dig how this poem breaks from the left alignment.

The influence of their poem helped me see how I could let mine breathe. Breaking away from a five or six beat line, I could make the rhythm feel a bit more playful, more interesting to me.

Family, particularly the connection with a mother, comes through as a salient theme in your poem, and also in a lot of your work. Can you talk about the central role that family plays in your work? 

I think about this a lot. I only come from two places—my mother and father. In that way, it’s a sort of poetics of place. No matter how much, at times, I think I’m different from them, they are a kind of genesis for my understanding of the world. I try not to get mired down by a binary of whether they were good or bad parents. Maybe I’m just old enough to understand they had their own shit with them—that we all do.

I’m all about having a speaker that takes fictive liberties in poems, making up details that might add a little more emotive entanglement. Yet, in my experience, the more I revise a poem, the closer it comes down to the truth of things, to the truth of what, as I see it, happened. I guess I’ve tried to revise my life in the same way: a continual peeling back to find a more consistent, sympathetic ethos. And isn’t that the juice? To learn how to love and give a little more of yourself. I think I’m indebted to my friend Ross, who showed me that writing is connected to how we live, how we breathe all this in.

New Orleans leaves a heavy imprint in this poem and much of your other work. How does New Orleans as a place influence your art? 

Born and raised, baby. Born and raised. My father once said, “Don’t forget, you from some place.” New Orleanians definitely going to tell you where they from. We love our city. If I’m a part of any tradition, it’s that one.

Has your relationship between place and poetry changed since you moved away from the city? 

Moving to Bloomington changed my relationship with nature. I’d only lived in cities before. During the pandemic we got an Aussie mix, Calliope, and I started walking her nearly every day in the woods. There was something in the everydayness of walking through there that shifted something inside of me. I became aware of the seasons—New Orleans doesn’t really have seasons in the same way—the transitions things take, need to take. This might sound basic to some folk, but, for me, I always had a fear of the woods, like it was a place not for me, not safe.


What excites you most in the work of other poets writing today? What do you look for in poetry? 

I like poets that are going for it. A well-crafted poem is cool, but what about those poems where the craft breaks down a little bit and the poet hits you with that chin shot? I guess in poetry we can call it a love tap.

I also look for poetry that’s being its weird self. Though I don’t know if I have criteria, I like poems that do more than try to impress with language. I want something that brings me somewhere, in and outside of myself, somewhere I haven’t been before. When I was leaving for break, I grabbed Ama Codjoe and Paul Tran’s new joints. Wow, both of those books are… it. Also brought Yusef’s Magic City—I’ve kept that one close for a little minute now.
This piece reads like a love letter to the speaker’s mother. Can you talk about the influence of your own mother, or maternal figures from your life, in your work? 

In my mother’s house, the kitchen is its heart. Though she did cook for a living, it felt like my whole life people would pull up a stool, pour a glass of wine, and unwind. There was always hella gossip and sorrow and advice and joy and screaming—the good, the bad, and the ugly—in the kitchen. Good food, too. My mom can really cook. Maybe my ideas around telling stories started from listening to grown folks talk in the kitchen.

Poetry, much of the time for me, is about listening. I think of a poem as world building—the beginning of something that wasn’t there begins with that first word on that first line. That feels kind of grandiose when I say it, but it helps me. Sometimes I think my poems are saying, “Hey, come over here, I got a story to tell YOU!” Like it’s the unspoken first line of all my poems. I think that comes from my mother, the tradition of storytelling that I found in her kitchen.

Is this poem part of a chapbook or larger poetry collection? What are you currently working on?

I think, just recently, I thought, Oh dang, I might have a li’l something something here. Might be a full-length in the works, yeah.

Last question: What’s your favorite item off the menu at Popeyes?  

Now this is a good question. I usually do the same order. Growing up, I did love the mashed potatoes, though, today, Big Box, spicy, with a breast and a thigh, red beans and coleslaw, pepper on the side. If I’m home, I have to stop and grab a Big Shot, pineapple or strawberry. There is no Popeyes in Bloomington! Every time I’m in Indianapolis, which is mostly to go to the airport, I stop and grab a big box of Popeyes. I got to.

Bernardo Wade is a Black writer from New Orleans, Louisiana. He is the editor of the Indiana Review and is a Watering Hole Fellow. He won the 2021 Puerto del Sol Poetry Prize and has works appearing or forthcoming in Ecotone, Guernica, and The Cincinnati Review.

Zach Shultz is an MFA Candidate at Louisiana State University and former nonfiction editor for New Delta Review. He is a 2019 Lambda Literary nonfiction fellow and a 2022 Indiana University Writers’ Conference fiction fellow. His work has appeared in LitHubElectric LiteratureThe Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere.

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Announcing the Winners of Our 2022 Awards

The Southern Review is pleased to announce this year’s recipients of the Oran Robert Perry Burke Awards for Fiction, Nonfiction, Poetry, and Literary Translation, as well as the James Olney Award. These annual awards, established and funded by the generous support of donors, are presented to contributors in recognition of an exceptional work that appears in the previous volume year. Our congratulations to the winners!


The recipient of the Oran Robert Perry Burke Award for Fiction is

Lucas Southworth

for the story, “Quantum Physics,” from our winter 2022 issue


The recipient of the Oran Robert Perry Burke Award for Nonfiction is

Heather Aruffo

for the essay, “At the Women’s Only Handgun Class in Fairbanks, Alaska,” from our spring 2022 issue


The recipient of the Oran Robert Perry Burke Award for Poetry is

Michael Pontacoloni

for the poem, “Antique Map of Dorchester Neck,” from our summer 2022 issue


The recipient of the Oran Robert Perry Burke Award for Literary Translation is

Charlotte Coombe and Antonio Díaz Oliva

for the translation from Spanish of Antonio Díaz Oliva’s story, “Mrs. Gonçalves and the Lives of Others,” from our spring 2022 issue


The recipient of the James Olney Award is

torrin a. greathouse

for the poem, “Etymythology,” from our spring 2022 issue

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A Writer’s Insight: Bryn Chancellor

Bryn Chancellor’s short story, “Remnants,” appears in the Autumn 2022 issue of The Southern Review. Here, she discusses the centrality of place in her writing, the power of story to humanize the opioid epidemic, and the challenges of moving between novel and short story.

Zach Shultz, editorial assistant: The landscape of Phoenix comes to life in “Remnants” – almost as if the city itself is a character in the story. How important is place to you in fiction?  

Bryn Chancellor: Place is right up there with characters for me. I grew up in northern Arizona and then lived in the Phoenix area for over a decade; my family and friends are still there, so I go back often. In Phoenix, my house was a mile north of the (semi-fictionalized) neighborhood in “Remnants”; I’ve fictionalized the businesses and renamed streets but retained the layout and landmarks, such as the Coliseum and fairgrounds, a well-known park, the city’s oldest community college, and the otherworldly lake on the far eastern outskirts of the city. One of my best friends used to live two blocks from the Coliseum, and we’d sit in the back yard listening to faint shrieks and music from the fairgrounds under the glow of electric lights.

I think my obsession with place in part comes from growing up where I did, in the shadow of red sandstone rocks that I climbed barefoot and caves where bats flew out at dusk, where giant sinkholes had names like Devil’s Kitchen. In the desert, you can’t ignore the landscape. It’s big and strange and fragile and dangerous. Walking out the door at midnight and running smack into a wall of 90 degree heat—that stays with you.

ZS: What short story collections and/or novels have inspired your own work? What other writers do you see your work engaging with?

BC: I carry so many writers’ influences, their words and images fluttering around inside me. I recently taught Kazuo Ishiguro’s Klara and the Sun, Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend, and Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, and they all slay me. Amy Hempel and Alice Munro, the minimalist and the maximalist, are the first literary writers I loved. For linked collections and multivocal novels, Rohinton Mistry’s Swimming Lessons, Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge and Anything Is Possible, Louise Erdrich’s LaRose. Lord, it’s impossible to narrow down.

ZS: In the past few years, we’ve witnessed more stories about the opioid epidemic—in both the literary world and in popular culture. I’m thinking about Nico Walker’s Cherry and Beth Macy’s Dopesick (and its Hulu adaption). What do you find inspiring, or lacking, in the existing stories out there about this issue. What do you hope your work contributes to the larger discourse on addiction?

BC: The recent reporting—yes, Beth Macy and Patrick Radden Keefe—is shattering. Those stories are vital because they shine a light on the systemic culpability in this crisis. Since the start of the so-called War on Drugs, many dominant narratives about addiction tend to blame individuals, punish them, stigmatize them, make them responsible for their own recovery but ignore societal and governmental neglect and devastating legal and carceral policies. With opioids, there’s extra cruelty in drugmakers inflicting and profiting from this pain.

But this fictional story started in a smaller place, after I saw a live-streamed video of two people overdosing on a sidewalk. I thought, this is where we are now, passersby filming strangers in crisis? Publicly humiliating people in their worst, life-threatening moments? Have I stumbled into an episode of Black Mirror? At the same time, my writer brain noticed those people’s physical contortions—the word that came to mind was body-snatched. That’s what ultimately led to this story, wondering about how it felt for a person to recover in the midst of such public and private shame, about how our bodies are so external and internal.

ZS: Most recovery stories center on male characters. The hyper masculine anti-hero struggling with addiction has become something of a trope in the larger genre of redemption narratives. But your protagonist, Sunny, subverts a lot of expectations we have of characters dealing with this issue. How did Sunny’s particular recovery experience—as a mother, daughter, woman—inform your development of her as a character? How did she come to you?

BC: Sunny actually is a character from one my earliest stories, “Water at Midnight,” published almost twenty years ago now. She was seventeen years old in that story, sent by her mother to live with her father in Phoenix, hugely pissed off and flirting inappropriately with the lawn irrigator. When I began writing these new stories, set seventeen years later, I wrote her daughter Penelope’s story first. I was pondering her mother’s addiction, this neighborhood, and it came to me seemingly out of nowhere: What if her mother is Sunny?

I think it’s the rage that brought her to me. Sunny was furious as a teenager about her circumstances, but she didn’t understand why—which infuriated her more. Sunny’s escalating, misdirected but righteous anger about her present and past life, which finally explodes outside the brewery, is one of my favorite things about her. But it’s also terribly sad; at the end of the first story I wrote with her, she’s so hopeful, on the cusp of adulthood. It broke my heart a little to take her through this fire, but it also felt true to how our lives take unexpected and often tragic turns.

ZS: One of the most heartbreaking elements of “Remnants” was the fractured relationship between Sunny and her daughter, Pen. What motivated your choice to make Sunny a mother, and to have this fissure with her daughter become a central tension in the story? What are we, as readers, to make of Sunny’s inability to repair this mother- daughter relationship?

BC: The fissure was there from the early drafts, though I had to discover more about its roots and complexities. I often have to fight the impulse to fix everything for my characters by the end of a story, and that was true here. I wanted a reconciliation, but I also knew it wouldn’t be true to the situation or the characters.

My sense is that Sunny and Pen can repair their relationship, but Sunny first needs to repair herself. She’s fortunate that Pen’s father and wife step in and give her that space. Actually, the scene with Francie, which was a bit of a surprise for me, helped me see that. The final scene when Sunny is by herself, not riding to escape but simply for pleasure, feeling herself in the world, felt really hopeful to me.

ZS: Is “Remnants” part of a larger project? If so, tell us about what we can expect next.

BC: Yes, it’s part of ten linked stories set in the same Phoenix neighborhood where three families cross paths over the course of about a year. “Remnants” is the final story (right now, anyway), and the other characters in it—Pen, Francie, Arthur, and Vera—also have their own stories. Sunny is the through-character, whom we see from everyone else’s perspective before her own. My goal is for the stories to stand on their own, though they lean on each other and can form a larger story if you read the whole set. Like stars in a constellation, maybe. That combination of singular and communal always has appealed to me.

ZS: “Remnants” does not follow a traditional story structure. The narrative is often thrown into the past by a memory triggered in the protagonist, which sheds light on her current situation in powerful ways. How did you decide on this non-linear structure, and what challenges and possibilities did this form offer?

BC: You’re right, the movement is kind of bonkers. It took me awhile to figure it out. One thing that helped was to put a strict timer on it; it takes place on New Year’s Eve, and then one night two weeks later, the day of the presidential inauguration. I also tried to keep Sunny in motion in the present: she’s unloading fabric, sweeping the salon, riding her bike, fidgeting at a meeting, buying apples, mowing the lawn at night.

This fits with her story—she needs to keep moving, keep busy—but it also let me throw her backward into thought without it feeling too navel-gazey. The structure also should emphasize her internal state: Her mind is constantly in motion, battling urges and ruminations that interrupt the present.

ZS: You’ve previously published a novel titled Sycamore, and a story collection, When Are You Coming Home? What is it like for you to move between long and short forms of fiction? Do you find one form more compelling, or energizing, as a writer or reader?

BC: Currently, I’m working on a novel at the same time as these stories. I feel a little like my brother’s Stretch Armstrong action figure (look it up, kids), which we once tested to its limits by pulling its limbs across a street. I didn’t plan to do both at once: an early draft of the novel split in two. So I’ve been swinging back and forth, slowly, slowly, stumble, bumble, tick tock.

The truth is that as a writer, many days, I find both forms excruciating. I’ve been sitting here trying to think of a good analogy for short story versus novel, but the image that keeps coming for the baffling writing process is… pole vaulting.

There you are on the track, with a long pole balanced on your shoulder. You rock back and forth in your spiffy shoes. You’ve trained years for this. You take a deep breath, heft the pole, and bolt down the track. You plant the tip of that bendy stick, contort like an inchworm, and catapult yourself skyward, toward an impossibly high bar. Most days you miss—clang, the bar falls. But sometimes you clear it. Then, falling is flying is floating. You sprawl on the mat, make invisible snow angels, your skin shushing on the vinyl. Then, you get up, start again.

For a short story, do it blind-folded or with a monkey on your back. For a novel, make it a decathlon, lop off a finger, and age a decade. Either way, the miracle isn’t clearing the bar. It’s that you keep going to the track.

Bryn Chancellor is author of the novel Sycamore, a Southwest Book of the Year, and the story collection When Are You Coming Home?, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize. She lives and teaches in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Zach Shultz is an MFA Candidate at Louisiana State University and former nonfiction editor for New Delta Review. He is a 2019 Lambda Literary nonfiction fellow and a 2022 Indiana University Writers’ Conference fiction fellow. His work has appeared in LitHubElectric LiteratureThe Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere.

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In Memoriam: Charles Simic (1938-2023)

The Southern Review mourns the death of longtime contributor and friend Charles Simic (May 9, 1938–January 9, 2023). For the last thirty years, Mr. Simic’s work frequently appeared in the journal. From our winter 2021 issue, here is his poem “Circus.”

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