Breaking Points: An interview with Chelsea Stickle
It sounds like you’re always writing! How did you decide what stories to put in this chapbook? Were there any that you took out?
I officially started working on Breaking Points in Jonathan Cardew’s Bending Genres workshop when I wrote the first story in this collection “What the Detectives Found in Her Abandoned Car.” It was an unusual story for me to write, but it unlocked something. I realized I could do a whole collection of stories of women and girls at their breaking points. I even got the title that day! Then I did nothing for a long time. When the pandemic started, I realized that I could put together a chapbook—just to see if I could—and started thinking about breaking points again. Most of the stories selected were no-brainers for me. They did well when they were published, got nominations, etc. I considered them my best work in realism. There were a couple that I took out, mostly due to page limitations. Eventually, it came down to: did they meet the theme and were they too similar to stories I’d already chosen?
Let’s talk endings! Why are they so hard to write? How do you know when a story is complete? How much do you rely on the reader’s active imagination?
The majority of the time I write with a mental motor running in the background. When it runs out, the story’s over. There should be a sense of resonance, for sure, and maybe completion. Something has to have happened, even if it’s just a subtle shift. If I can’t land on an ending, it’s usually a sign that there’s a problem earlier in the story. I worry more about middles. I try not to rely on things outside my control as a writer.
Do you ever find it difficult to put characters in a position of danger?
Heraclitus once said, “A man’s character is his fate.” I think about that a lot. I’m not putting characters in danger. We’re surrounded by danger and potential danger all the time. It’s just a question of what’s going to happen first, and that’s going to depend on character and circumstances. That being said, it’s always easier with flash because the characters aren’t around long. “Coming of Age” was my first flash and the reason I started writing flash. I wanted to get in and get out. I’m working on a flash novel now and it is more difficult to write stories where traumatic things happen to my recurring characters. They’ve been through enough!
How did you find the forms for these stories? Do you start with the form first or add the form when you revise/ How do using different forms impact the storytelling?
When it comes to hermit crabs, I never add the form later. The form has to be baked into the story. It has to be essential or it shouldn’t be included at all. I’m drawn to hermit crabs for narratives that I can’t seem to write straight. Sometimes it’s because they’re too difficult, they’ve been told many times or I’m not compelled to write the concept when it’s alone. It’s only when the concept marries the form that it feels right. A good form gives life, movement and meaning to the story. It gives the reader an “aha” moment when it clicks, and that’s invaluable.
How important is it to get the right point of view in a micro or flash fiction?
It’s important to be intentional. I worry more about voice. Is this the right voice for this story? Is this the right tone? Point of view is part of that. I can’t start a story until I hear its voice. So, for me, it’s essential.
There’s a particular violence perpetuated by mothers throughout Breaking Points—Is it possible that our parents have the most potential to harm us? Has writing shifted your relationship with your family?
My mother’s really proud of Breaking Points! She reads the blurbs over the phone to her friends.
It’s a cliché that the people you love the most have the biggest capacity to hurt you. When you’re a child, that parental connection is essential to survival and with that kind of dependence, there’s enormous potential for harm. I think culturally we don’t like to talk about how mothers can be as abusive as fathers. Maybe we want to imagine mothers are incapable of that because it’s much nicer to think so. To think that at least one primary caregiver is required to be good and decent and loving. But everyone is capable of horrors.
Bio: Chelsea Stickle is the author of the flash fiction chapbook Breaking Points (Black Lawrence Press, 2021). Her stories appear in CHEAP POP, CRAFT, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and others. Her micros have been selected for Best Microfiction 2021 and the WigleafTop 50 in 2022. She lives in Annapolis, MD with her black rabbit George and a forest of houseplants. Read more at chelseastickle.com and find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.
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