Behind the Words: Joe Baumann

Posted by on Dec 13, 2013 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Joe Baumann’s flash fiction piece “You” explores the negative space that is formed when a person goes missing.  Hope and loss co-exist for the family members left behind, especially whenever an unidentified body is found. Could those remains be your missing mother, your son, your lover? “You” will make you think about the ways we impact others long after we are gone from their lives, and what it means to seek closure for a loved one.
Kelly: The title of this piece “You” works on many levels, including a thematic one. Did the title occur to you first, or the story? How difficult is it for you to title a story?
Joe: I often actually start with a title–that’s where the “process” often begins for me, as strange as that may sound.  Sometimes the titles change, but not often.  I don’t know what it is about coming up with a title that helps push me forward–sometimes I find a thematic resonance that helps anchor and craft the narrative, but sometimes I just feel like a story is naked or incomplete without one, even when the story itself isn’t finished yet; it’s a strange quirk my writing has: every story needs a title before the story even gets written.  It drives the writing teacher in me crazy, but it’s just how I work.

 

There’s a nice rhythm to your sentences. I especially like your use of hyphenated adjectives. Many writers shy away from adjectives, but I think “You” is a great reminder that they can be effective and powerful, if used carefully. Adjectives like “rain-soaked”, “breath-held”  and “hair-dusted” are unusual and paint a haunting word picture for the reader.  What writers would you say influence your work (if any)?  
As with most writers, I think I’m influenced by who I’m reading at any given time, so this answer always changes.  Right now I’m reading a lot of contemporary short story writers–Nicholas Montemarano, Chris Adrian, Rachel Swearingen, Aimee Bender.  There are some stalwarts always on the list, though, including Mary Karr (her nonfiction has this punch to it that I don’t see in most other writers), Alissa Nutting, Jeanette Winterson.  I also write a lot of magic realism, so writers like Borges, Garcia Marquez, and Salman Rushdie take up a large part of my bookshelf.
 
Was this your first foray into flash fiction? Have you experimented with other forms of writing, such as poetry or creative non-fiction?
I write a fair amount of flash fiction.  Because I just don’t have time for NaNoWriMo, I spend the month of November each year writing the first draft of two flash fiction pieces every day, and then spend much of the rest of the year working from those drafts.  Otherwise, I primarily write short stories (ranging from just over 1000 words up to a story I just finished that’s about 11,000 words) and creative nonfiction.
 
One of the commenters on your story said “This really makes you think of the sheer depth of every human life that we tend to forget when we hear about a death or a statistic.” What was the “spark” for this story?
This story has an interesting starting point.  I was subbing for a colleague in an introductory creative writing course one day, and I decided to do an exercise in which the class read Joan Didion’s essay “At the Dam” aloud.  I then had each student write on the board one phrase that evoked a particularly striking image, and then everyone picked one of the phrases they didn’t write on the board and use it to start a story.  I participated as well, and the first draft of “You” came out of that, actually quite close to the final product.

 

I saw you have a book coming out from Red Bird Chapbooks – congratulations! Do you think of yourself mostly as a novelist or short story writer? What are you currently working on?
I’m definitely a short story writer rather than a novelist.  This might stem from the fact that some of my favorite writers (specifically Borges and Poe) made most of their careers out of short stories rather than the novel.  I haven’t actually ever tried writing a full-fledged novel (well, aside from some awful teenager-fantasy stuff I wrote in high school that will never, ever see the light of day), but I think the concepts I come up with for stories work best as such rather than as novel-length material.  Right now, I’m finishing the final touches on two separate collections of short stories (the mass of material I produced in my PhD program coursework and dissertation) that I hope to find a home for in the next several months.
Click here to read “You.”
Kelly Morris is a recent transplant to Los Angeles. She holds an MFA from Spalding University, and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Spry Literary Journal, Sundog Lit, and Red Savina Review. She blogs with three other writers at Literary Labors. When she’s not writing, Kelly can be found hanging out with her kids, who remain unconvinced that being a writer is actually a very cool job

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