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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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“Some stories just flow out of you and you try to keep up as you write them. This story was not like that.”
“When you feel like you have no power in a relationship, withholding becomes one of the only ways you can maintain the illusion of agency.”
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“My focus was on the character and emotions of the immigrant: the loneliness, the sense of loss and disconnection.”
“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 wanted to address old-age sexuality, which is in general completely unmentioned in Taiwanese society.”