Ann Fisher interviews Issue #54 Fiction author Nicholas LaMendola, regarding his piece “to my love, a portrait.”
“The world is complicated! I constantly catch myself oversimplifying, flattening other people’s points of view, disregarding the challenges and nuances that make people the way they are.”
What inspired you to write “to my love, a portrait”?
In this piece I tried to imagine myself in two different contexts—as a young woman, and as an older man, both of whom feel exceptionally out of place in their lives. The man’s voice came naturally to me, I just added 40 years to myself, but Aema’s voice was trickier. I was able to funnel a lot of my teenage angst into her journal entries and dialogue, but I had to play with her word choice quite a bit before I felt comfortable with the things she was saying.
How did you come upon the structure of this particular story? How does structure factor into your fiction writing in general?
While I think the two-part structure of the story is its greatest strength, it happened entirely by accident. I didn’t set out. I had an omniscient narrator in mind at the start. I was having trouble imagining how a young girl would speak in a world set forty-some years in the future. I kind of chickened out from that task. I decided that rather than invent a future teenage dialect for Aema’s dialogue, I’d just voice her the way I remember people talking when I was 14. At some point I thought that the whole effort was a farce, and then I realized that not only was I doing a poor job of inventing the dialogue, but my narrator was, too! At that point, the narrator became the grandfather (a foil of myself) writing in secret, ambivalent about whether he was nailing Aema’s voice or not, and the structure of the piece fell into place. This was quite a happy accident, and I really like the way it turned out.
Also, this piece is similar to other short stories of mine in that it ends abruptly and ambiguously, a technique I find almost essential in short fiction.
What do you hope readers take away from this piece?
The world is complicated! I constantly catch myself oversimplifying, flattening other people’s points of view, disregarding the challenges and nuances that make people the way they are. It’s easy to feel like nobody understands you (especially at 14) or that you don’t belong in the world. But if we could all pause to appreciate the difficulties other people face each day, we’d probably come away much less mad at one another.
How long did this story take to complete from start to finish?
Maybe a month to write and revise, and six years to find a home for!
What does your process of submitting your stories look like?
I have a Google document with a timeline of my submissions, and I try not to look at the long and growing list of rejections. I tend to write stories that are longer than most journals are looking for (my average is around 7000 words). “to my love, a portrait” is one of my most succinct, and that is one of its strengths. I’m thrilled that Mud Season Review will be my first acceptance!
How and when do you fit writing into your life?
I find it very difficult to get started on new stories, so unless I can set aside four to five hours, I often don’t get much done. Since I have a day job, most of my writing happens on the weekends, with occasional revising work in the evenings when I’m up to it.
Mud Season Review arose out of the Burlington Writer’s Workshops here in Vermont. Do you participate in any writing groups in your area or have friends or colleagues who are dedicated readers for you? If so, tell us a bit about how you find this supports your work.
I’ve been terrible at making myself part of the writing community where I live here in Fort Wayne, Indiana. I’ve only recently begun to consider myself a writer (I studied music in college). I’d like to do a better job of injecting myself into a web of similarly-minded people. My wife is my best editor—adding commas, shortening sentences, and rolling her eyes at big words I choose when small ones would do.
What are you currently working on?
In the next few months I’m going to piece together a novel from some ideas I’ve been knocking around for years. I’m outlining characters and researching at the moment, and boy could I use an ending!
Writer’s often write about their obsessions. What are you currently obsessed with? Has that worked its way into your pages?
I love podcasts. I’m sure I’ve listened to weeks worth of This American Life and Radiolab, among a pile of others. Though their format is mostly nonfiction, those two in particular are exquisite storytelling experiences—they’re absolute models of the introduction and buildup of character. I find myself toying with scientific concepts from Radiolab in stories all the time.
Which writers inspire you?
David Mitchell and Michael Chabon are two of the most diverse writers I can imagine—their breadth mesmerizes me. I’ve read only one book by Lily King – Euphoria. But it was one of the best books I’ve read in 10 years. I loved The Left Hand of Darkness and need to pick up more Ursula Le Guin.