One Question Interview: Carolyn Black


Carolyn Black’s stories have appeared in literary journals across Canada. “Serial Love” was published in the prestigious Journey Prize Anthology, and “At World’s End, Falling Off” won Honourable Mention at the National Magazine Awards. Her recently published collection of stories is called The Odious Child.

These are carefully crafted, modern and relevant stories, but they also feel somewhat like modern fables — characters are sometimes identified by role rather than by name, and drastic, symbolic things sometimes happen. What appeals or is useful about this style of fiction?

It was a way to escape a method of storytelling where Character was the primary element. For instance, when I named characters, they grew bloated in my imagination and seemed to weigh down my mind. As soon as I took away names, the characters shrank and my mind became active and playful. I think it was because I knew the characters would be easier to throw if they were tiny. I feel some hostility towards characters, so do like to hurl them away from me with force, but my arms are weak, spending all the time that they do merely typing. Being unnamed and tiny, as most of my characters are, they are quite easy to chuck around in a more equitable relationship with other elements of fiction. The characters cannot come clamouring for my attention just as I am working out something I want to say about Language or Form. They don’t have enough power to demand a flashback scene about the significant events from their past that account for their possession of certain subtle and turbulent emotions, which will now require fifty paragraphs to delineate. Shut up, you tiny creatures, I can say instead, while I hurl them away from me. I don’t empathize with them one bit, these squalling beings. I’m not a monster. It is just that they exist as formal elements, not real human beings. I do empathize with real human beings; I don’t empathize with formal elements. And I hope any readers of my writing might experience the same distancing or refocusing of attention away from Character. Many of the stories are about alienation, with characters disassociated from the community or the self, and I want the readers to experience this feeling in their own relationships to the characters.

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