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A Conversation with Lori Sambol Brody

To usher in her stint as Monthly Guest Blog Editor on The Spark, a cranky LORI SAMBOL BRODY talks to a much nicer Lori Sambol Brody about writing. Lori lives in the mountains of Southern California with her husband and two daughters, and writes short stories, flash fiction, and sometimes creative nonfiction. Her work has been published in or is forthcoming from Little Fiction, The Rumpus, Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, WhiskeyPaper, and elsewhere. She’s currently working on a collection of linked short stories that she may finish ten years from now.

LORI SAMBOL BRODY: Why do you write so slowly?
LORI SAMBOL BRODY: This really frustrates me, also. Writing is third in importance, after family and the job that helps support us. I have two kids, a twelve-year old and a ten-year old, and a full time job (that sometimes is all-encompassing), so it’s hard for me to get time to write. Writing flash fiction is actually the savior here, since I can write a first draft in an afternoon—but this is after using my long commute to “outline” the story in my head, or to come up with a first line or image from which I can unspool the story. Longer short stories are a longer slog. Also, sometimes I have to put a story away for months—if not years—to get an objective distance from the story so I can actually revise it. So, yeah, it’s a long process sometimes.

A lot of your stories are about teenagers or tweens. Aren’t you too old to write about them?
I’ve always had a theory that, at least at times (the bad times), our image of ourselves is the same as the image we have in junior high or high school. So, in a way, I’m still writing about my present self. And I’m also reliving some of the issues of teenagers through my daughters, who are about to be teenagers. In my writing, I’m examining the idea of friendship, shifting alliances, and pecking orders now, which of course comes to the forefront in junior high. I think these issues continue as you get older, although people may be more polite and the issues submerged. As I write about this, I wonder: Am I a good friend? Can I be a better friend? Where do I fit in?

Why can’t you set any stories in the United States?
Being in a foreign place automatically creates conflict. One of my pretty pretentious characters said that “he became truly himself when he traveled” (That line was cut in the final version!), but in a way it’s true, because the characters can’t rely on the familiar under stress. It’s fun to throw characters somewhere unfamiliar, so they are destabilized or put in danger, and see what happens. I’ve done things when I’ve traveled that I would never do at home (like get into an unmarked taxi)! Lately, though, I’ve been working on linked short stories that are set in Los Angeles, my hometown, and the community I live in in the Santa Monica Mountains, right outside of L.A.

On your website, you say: “I write short stories. All are true. And all are false.” What the heck does that mean?
I was playing with the idea that readers always think that fiction is based on the writer’s real experiences, confuse the life on the page with the life of the person sitting in front of the computer. But it’s fiction. However, the boundaries are not always so clear. Something from real life always jogs my imagination or informs my writing, whether it’s the setting, a phrase of dialogue, or emotions. So, the stories really are true and false at the same time. For example, I worked during summers in college for a defense contractor that made the M1 Abrams tank. I spun off that experience to write “Tuberose.” “Dress Rehearsal” (which has the same narrator as “Tuberose,” but purportedly grown-up) evolved from one line of dialogue actually said to me (“Every cowboy worth his salt can braid.”). Like the main character, I danced in a local production of The Nutcracker for a couple of years, with my entire family. No, you cannot see photos.

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