In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors—Nadia Born
I love the unique setup of “The Swimming Lesson,” as this story follows two characters’ internal monologues within the same moment of time. What inspired this story’s creation, particularly in this style?
I actually wrote “The Student” section first, but it felt like the story was incomplete somehow. So, I leaned into the areas that intrigued me. I started to wonder about the instructor and how her story could serve as a mirror for Howard’s. This helped crystalize certain themes for me: how they’re both trying to say goodbye, in what way they’re students/instructors, etc. The side-by-side “reflection” format was born from this fascination.
While the entirety of this work is set in the present, the pivotal moments of this piece took place in the past, and are presented as memories. How do you work to ground the reader in the present while drawing from the past to form the situation in front of us?
In very short fiction, I like to choose liminal moments where there’s a crucial change about to happen. (Here, Howard’s about to jump into the pool, while Masha’s about to leave for college). Though there’s a clear present happening through the swimming lesson, it’s a natural time for these characters to ponder the past and future.
The column structure of this story is fascinating. Can you talk about how you expect people to read this story, and what you did to make sure they read it in the order you wanted?
On the first read, I think the greatest impact is reading “The Student” in full and then “The Instructor.” But my hope is that it may be read in different ways, especially a second or third time. For example, starting with “The Instructor” or even reading the lines side-by-side may emphasize different connections.
You write a lot of flash, including Checking For Ticks published by SmokeLong Quarterly; also, your piece “The Prohibition,” recently won the Anton Chekhov Award for Flash Fiction at LitMag. Can you talk about the craft in flash and what drew you to it?
I love flash because it’s such an innovative form. Somehow it reminds me of that silly “gold panning” activity we did as kids. Flash is lowering a pan into the river to see what nuggets and pebbles you’ll discover. Usually you get unexpected, odd little things. Though I write longer stories as well, I always come back to flash to capture those tiny-sized weirdos.
What authors are you reading now, and do you have favorites that you keep returning to or who influenced your writing?
As a reader, I love anything fantastical. For example, I just finished C.L. Clark’s The Faithless and Fonda Lee’s Untethered Sky. That said, I have certain favorites I always return to: Ursula K. Le Guin, Jhumpa Lahiri, Gabriel García Marquez, Elena Ferrante and T. Kingfisher.
Today’s flash scene is also so wonderful and I try to keep tabs on authors including Allegra Hyde, Tara Isabel Zambrano, Jasmine Sawers, Latifa Ayad, Candice May, Exodus Oktavia Brownlow and Regan Puckett.
What projects are you working on now?
I just started a longer myth-based work this month – exciting times! But I also tend to get pulled into short stories at any given moment, so we’ll see what happens.
Nadia Born writes peculiar fiction, both literary and speculative. Her work has been published in Gulf Coast, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. She also has received nominations for the Pushcart Prize and Best Microfiction. She holds a BA in creative writing from Northwestern University.