In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Danielle Lazarin

by Feb 27, 2024


Your flash fiction piece, “The Math,” is a beautifully-crafted work that compiles so much emotion in just two pages. What prompted the creation of this piece? What made you juxtapose the narrator’s agony of slowly losing a partner with mourning the house she will never have?

The house listing is real. I found it by stepping through the internet rabbit hole of  StreetEasy, where I was looking at different versions of my apartment for the purposes of a renovation. This actual house is not far from where I live now, in the place I grew up. I grew a strange attachment to it that wasn’t quite longing but a sense of inexplicable familiarity. I’d visit the listing with some regularity as a sort of comfort spot on the internet (and though it’s no longer for sale, I still do, every now and again). This sense that the narrator has of the house belonging to her when it obviously never will came out of that attachment. It’s not uncommon for me to turn up the dial on a feeling I have, giving it more deeply to a fictional someone else who can run with it, as a way into story. 

This was during the pandemic, when so many people were relocating not only physically but questioning the meaning and desires of their lives, asking where they should be. I myself did not long to be elsewhere, but I could imagine a character who would need to project herself into a very different life, for whom doing so would be a certain escape hatch. The story began as lines—the same opening, more or less—and the next part, about the grief, slipped its way in as it often does to my work, making the fantasy she’s inhabiting even more necessary and more painful. That this absurd wanting could be located around a viable if adjacent anger about fate and resources (money, yes, but time, most of all) gave the story the human current I needed to write it through. 

The specifics you include in “The Math,” particularly in reference to the paintings, and their age in comparison to the age of her husband, are those extra details that make this piece even more heart-wrenching. What was your process for revising this piece to retain certain details and release others?

Though the paintings had always been there, that age comparison came in during revisions. In the earlier versions, I’d kept most of the details of the husband’s decline out of the story. My agent, Barbara Jones, encouraged me to not glide over the depth and specificity of what the narrator was feeling or experiencing, which opened up the story quite a bit. It’s flash, so I only added about 50 words, but in those additions I made an effort to show her inhabiting both the place of her fantasy about her future and its reality simultaneously. Since the story already had so many numbers in it, counting on the other side—in the small rooms with the dying man, living a life that will impoverish her emotionally—seemed a logical bridge to make in revision. It was a challenge to convey such a large house and moment in a person’s life in so few words, but those numbers helped a lot with scale. 

In your work, you return to themes of relationships and couples, and the friction that occurs between them, as in Floor Plans, published by LitHub. What draws you to these themes? What other themes do you find that you return to throughout your work?

The larger arc of my work has always, and continues to, open and close the door on what is seen and what is unseen. I’ve always been drawn to the space where the private self meets the public projection of that self, and how our relationships of any sort ask us to—constantly, forever, till death and even beyond!—negotiate that space. Lately, I’ve been thinking and writing a lot about secrecy, about grief for what still lives, and about what it means to protect someone. 

What authors shaped your writing? What are some stories or novels you love to return to?

My college writing professor was the great Dan Chaon, whose work I love and whose teaching wisdom I’m grateful rooted within me at the right time. Of the many things he taught me about how to approach writing, the nugget that I dig for the most is his reminder that all writers know their work—its literal and emotional landscape—better than anyone else, that it’s our job to make it as clear to the reader as it is inside of the place that makes us want to write stories about it. It was in Dan’s class that I first read Ann Beattie’s “The Burning House,” which is one of my favorite stories that I rarely teach because it’s too precious to me, but which I re-read frequently. Short story writers I teach a lot and who I admire greatly include Laura van den Berg, Jamel Brinkley, Samantha Hunt, and Nick White. On the novel front, the past few years I’ve found myself returning to Maggie O’Farrell’s Hamnet, Kayla Rae Whittaker’s The Animators, and everything by Deborah Levy, who is an absolute genius on the sentence and story level. 

What projects are you working on now?

I’m currently at work on a novel, in a second round of revisions that I hope will bring me to its finalish shape, and have enough short stories on the backburners that I’ll assemble into a collection. Like my last collection, this one also will have its share of shorter stories much like The Math, which I hope makes it into this future project. 

Danielle Lazarin is the author of the short story collection Back Talk. Her fiction and essays can be found in The Southern Review, Colorado Review, Literary Hub, Glimmer Train, The Cut, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, and elsewhere. Her work has been honored by the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Glimmer Train Family Matters Award, the Millay Colony for the Arts, The Freya Project, and the Stella Kupferberg Memorial Short Story Prize. She lives and teaches in her native New York, where she is at work on a novel and a story collection. She has a newsletter, Talk Soon, that discusses the writing process.

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