Fiction Reader Josh Michael interviewed writer Iris Litt about her piece “Return or Exchange” which appears in Issue #50. Here is Iris’s tongue-in-cheek commentary about marriage and relationships.
“Return or Exchange” is a tongue-in-cheek commentary about marriage and relationships, where future coupling has most, if not all, of the emotion taken out of it. How much of this conceit is derived from personal experience, and is the origin of this story something that can be traced to a single cause or effect?
I’d say that very little is derived from personal experience, unless you consider observation personal experience. It is really a comment on bureaucracy vs an independent spirit in matters of the heart. Since it’s set in the future, bureaucracy has had time to become all-encompassing. And it’s a flattering picture of the present, when one has the option of following one’s emotions in all things, despite the problems inherent in that lifestyle.
The theme of love and how it is defined in a future setting is a powerful, observational tool. Besides the themes of love and relationships, are there any less-expressed themes the reader should be aware of after having read the story?
Having the strength to follow your own path even if it differs from what you’ve been taught or what is expected of you by family or society.
What do you hope your readers will take away from reading “Return or Exchange” and why do you feel this is an important story to tell?
The message is really to define your most important needs in a love relationship, know what they are and what you are willing to risk or give up in order to satisfy those needs. This is a romantic concept, and if security is a more important need, then you may wish to follow the philosophy of the Bureau of Husbandry.
How did this story evolve as you worked on it, especially the arc of the protagonist and her about-face at the end of the story?
I just had to go through the stages of examining Robin’s options in dealing with her unhappiness in dealing with the aspects of William’s personality that are truly difficult. But she appreciates and wants the good stuff: the fun, imaginativeness, spontaneity,warmth and affection, etc. and finally grows up enough to realize that he’s worth the compromises she has to make.
The use of the Spanish retort, Quien sabe, seems to have some deeper importance in this story, especially posed as a (rhetorical) question. What do you wish for your reader to get out of this sentiment?
That it’s a problem no one ever solves completely. Marriage will never be easy, no matter how much you love your partner.
There are some very real and personal moments between the protagonist and Ms. Humanoid, regardless of the reflection that “All you had to do was take the emotion out of everything, and it was simple.” They foil each other perfectly. Was the story originally set up with these two characters and their interactions explicitly in mind?
Not really. They just began to interact that way. But it was inevitable, because the story is about the philosophies that each of them represents.
Revision and editing are often difficult and unique aspects of finishing a story. What’s your revision process, and do you have any personal editing tips for our readers?
I just keep rereading the story and asking myself questions about it. I listen to the story and determine if anything doesn’t sound real. If it doesn’t, I revise.
What topics or themes do you find you’re most interested in exploring through your work, and do these topics and themes change or remain steadfast depending on what type of story you want to tell?
The topics change a lot, depending on when the story was written and what inspired it. They range from a coming-of-age story told by a fourteen year old girl who works in the fields during the labor shortage of the second world war, to an anthropology professor who promotes a unique and comic method of keeping bears away, to a very advanced computer who falls in love with his user, to a man who won’t admit to himself that his beautiful young wife is dead and about the woman who falls in love with him, to a young woman who loves life in New York but forms a relationship with a guy who may be the one who stole her wallet, and some about Americans in Mexico, and on and on. I guess I am a tongue-in-cheek writer, since many of these stories are in that vein and some are downright funny.
And lastly, are you currently working on any new pieces? Will there be any new writing from you in the near future?
Yes, I have a few recent ones, still unpublished. If you need any new stories, I will send you one.
Josh Michael is associate fiction editor for Mud Season Review. He is a writer and educator living in Billings, MT, where he works as an adjunct at Montana State University-Billings, and as a poetry teacher for the non-profit Arts Without Boundaries. He has an MFA in Writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts, and attended Berklee College of Music in Boston. In his spare time he is a drummer in various rock and funk bands.