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A Conversation With PEN America Best Debut Short Stories 2019 Author Erin Singer
“Inspiration came from the stupid pencil jar our family had when I was growing up.”
We are Tockers, descendants of thirty-six feet of long lean Saskatchewan woman: six Tocker sisters, six foot tall, exemplary ax-women all, so says our mom. At the kitchen table this morning we are mixing our Nesquik and Mom is quoting from Taking Our Time: A History of Tockers. As she cites each Tocker triumph she stabs the book with her file, showering its curling cover with fingernail dust. Tocker Trucking! Compass Sawmill! TT’s Laundromat! Stab! Stab! Stab! Mom plants the file in an old baby corn can crammed with white pencil crayons and shards of rulers and dried-out pens. She rubs her eyes until mascara moons arise underneath. Our spoons clack inside our plastic cups.
What was I saying? She sighs. Point being, summer’s coming and no Tocker ever chopped a tree indoors. Get outside and play! Tocker girls brown up good. Just godsakes don’t get a farmer tan.
That right there’s offensive to farmers, Dad says behind his cigarette smoke.
I’m going down for a nap, says Mom. She puts her Kool-Aid glass in the sink.
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“Every interaction between adult siblings presents a chance to get more clarity about the past. Hopefully, we’re able to seize at least some of these chances.”
“I wrote much of the story listening to jazz, including the title song, for inspiration on how to shift without imposing too much of a structure.”
“I wanted to portray the pain of trying to reach someone who is inside their own, unreachable pain, and how this often puts untenable pressure on relationships.”
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“I thought this exemplified two aspects of the Colombian spirit that interest and delight me: Any festive occasion can become an excuse to start a full-on party; and time is, as a manner of speaking, subjective.”
“I love that our stories are beginning to get the attention they deserve, but that’s not enough for me. I want more.”
“The themes of social justice, the magic of water, and the power of queer love to create a different world—these are themes that I return to again and again in my writing and my life.”