Carrie R. Moore’s story, “The Rest of the Morning,” appears in the autumn 2021 issue of The Southern Review. Here, she discusses drawing inspiration from Solange, the intersections and separations between spiritual and romantic love, and how longer stories might lend readers a sense of restraint.
Jake Zawlacki, Editorial Assistant: At the beginning of this piece, you make a point of giving Solange an “after” credit. Could you talk a little about her music’s influence on this piece? (I’m a big fan of A Seat at the Table).
Carrie R. Moore: I adore Solange’s work. Through her own intentional artistic practice, she’s taught me so much about taking your time with your craft, using each word and rhythm to convey meaning. “The Rest of the Morning” came out of an experience I had while listening to her 2019 album When I Get Home. On “We Deal With the Freak’n (Intermission)” Solange uses an Alexyss K. Tylor sample. Tylor says, “Do you realize how magnificent you are? The god that created you is a divine architect that created the moon, the sun, the stars . . .” And then Solange goes into this very intense, very sensual love song titled “Jerrod.” That transition made me so curious. What is the relationship between God and romantic love? How do you have a spiritual connection with God and a physical relationship with a human being, especially given how the Bible treats those as two very separate behaviors? How separate are they, really? The story emerged from these questions, that little transition that Solange uses quite purposefully on her album. The title, “The Rest of the Morning,” not only reflects the story’s openness at the end, but also is an homage to Solange’s work. I really wanted to give credit to an artist who’s profoundly influenced my own healing.
JZ: We see Sariah navigating differing types of love with Helene, Jay, and God. Do you think the story highlights the inadequacy of these distinctions?
CRM: The story is certainly interested in spiritual, platonic, and romantic love, as well as in the way people interpret and make sense of these myriad emotions. In some ways, treating these forms of love as separate gets quite messy. Sariah is slowly falling in love with Jay, and yet part of what she loves about him—though she can’t quite admit it to herself—is how he is unafraid to ask questions about who God is. Sariah admires Helene too, and yet she loves how strong Helene’s faith appears to be. God is both a separate Being and Someone who inhabits these characters. It’s very difficult to treat God and people as distinct. You never know when God might be revealing something to you through someone else.
And yet the story also explores how Sariah uses different forms of love to fill the same absence. She wants to be seen, for someone else to celebrate her body as much as she does, to know that she is loved in all of her fullness. It’s no coincidence that when God feels the most absent from her, that when Helene tells her she’s too far gone as a sinner to have a full-fledged relationship with Him, Sariah runs to Jay. Romantic love temporarily replaces spiritual love—until she realizes that it doesn’t have to. All of what Sariah does comes from not wanting to feel invisible or abandoned because of who she is and what she’s done.
JZ: Throughout this piece you capture the physicality of God in Sariah’s body. For someone without a religious background, where did the inspiration for this come from?
CRM: Quite honestly, this is the only part of the story that is autobiographical. I grew up in the church. Ushered. Sang in the choir. Participated in Easter and Christmas plays. Praise-danced, all of that. And yet God only became real to me in my late teens, much in the same way that Sariah experiences God in her chest, almost as if a literal body inhabits her. When I feel extremely moved by the Spirit, God feels just as solid and dense as any person whose shoulder I can reach out and touch. I don’t think I’m the only person who experiences this. In Baptist churches—and other denominations, as well—it’s quite common to see someone rise in the pews and become overwhelmed by the presence of God. Sometimes people fall out. Sometimes people feel so full they burst into uncontrollable tears. I wanted to write a story that was about questioning faith and questioning God, but that nevertheless treated God as a Being as real as any human whose body you can miss beside your own. I wanted God to feel so real that Sariah would worry about never having that intimate proximity again.
JZ: I commonly see religious characters that have a feeling of massive shame or guilt hanging over them throughout a story. However, Sariah seems to have a much more personal relationship with God, like a relationship between individuals, instead of hierarchical. What was your thinking behind this?
CRM: Sariah is certainly moving toward a stronger personal relationship by the end of the story. However, what she’s working out for much of “The Rest of the Morning” is what to do with her shame, how it functions in her spiritual life. Despite the personal way in which God appears to Sariah, she first encounters Him through the physical pain of her abortion. After this point, she builds her relationship with God on this difficult experience, and whenever she doesn’t feel Him strongly in her life, she assumes she’s done something to cause it. So, there’s a hierarchy there, in that she believes she can cause God to abandon her, which is her deepest fear. By the story’s end, she unlearns that sense of negative control, that feeling that any one thing she can do can drive God away forever. She’s trying to figure out how to see God beyond Someone who punishes her by putting distance between them.
JZ: Sariah’s experience with abortion is so complex in this story; we get to see the many angles of the act. What do you think her experience can add to the current discussion around abortion?
CRM: I’m not sure that Sariah’s experience necessarily adds anything to the current discussion, but I did want the story to linger with her through the entirety of her abortion. The surprise of her pregnancy. The way her experience becomes deeply buried in her memory. And in particular, the order in which she feels guilt. In the story, Sariah’s quite content with her decision as she goes to the clinic, as she takes the pills, as she continues on with her life. She doesn’t feel guilty. She doesn’t feel shame because she’s made her own private decision over her own body. Instead of focusing its attention there, the story becomes more interested in the way in which Sariah starts to feel guilty about the abortion. She doesn’t feel badly about her choice until the moment when she’s in pain, and I really wanted to push against that. Especially within a Christian tradition, we often believe that if we’re suffering, we’ve done something wrong, something bad to deserve it. But have we? Or is this only our way of trying to exert control over our experiences?
JZ: In the vein of craft, this is a longer short story by contemporary standards. Did you know this was a long story to tell when you started out? Or did it grow into what it is now?
CRM: Because of some strange patterning within my brain, all of my pieces are usually quite long—over 10,000 words. I never know how long a piece will be before I begin, only that deep characterization, setting, interiority, and descriptive language interest me equally. Such a practice tends to make stories long, but (I hope) pleasantly full and detailed. My stories also tend to take place over a period of several months, and that movement through time—and the resulting character arcs—takes up space on the page. A shorter, earlier version of “The Rest of the Morning” ended with Sariah and Jay in her apartment. But I wanted to get them to that baptism, to Sariah’s surprise that God is still there, so I expanded the piece by a few more pages. An even shorter version of this story—one that I never imagined until just now—might only take place the night before the baptism, with the flashback scenes briefly weaved in. But Sariah has waited so long to have sex again, that I wanted the reader to wait a bit, too. I wanted her restraint to feel palpable.
JZ: I’m looking forward to reading your future work. Any sneak peeks into what you’ve been working on?
CRM:Thank you! I have a story, “Surfacing,” currently published in The Sewanee Review, and another, “Naturale,” published in One Story. Right now, I’m working on a novel about black collective identities at the Michener Center. We’ll see how long this piece gets too!