An Interview with Adam Peterson

Joe Ransom

Adam Peterson photoAdam Peterson is the author/co-author of three flash fiction collections and co-editor of the creative prose pamphlet The Cupboard. His stories have been published in The Kenyon Review, Indiana Review, The Normal School, Hobart, and elsewhere. Peterson is a master of concision. Often stemming from a shared thematic seed (matricide, death, contemplation of an indecent act), his short-short stories and series possess the dexterity, depth, and dry wit of a thoughtful comedian. His sentences are agile, dancing back on themselves, playing around with readers' expectations, delighting and surprising. “To the police officer on the corner, he runs, runs to confess that he deduced the victim,” he writes in a piece from his latest collection, The Flasher. Ahead of his reading as part of the University of San Francisco’s Emerging Writers Festival, Peterson was kind enough to talk to Switchback about his genre-bending new collection, sentence whittling, and his favorite funny-sad story title. Head over to his website to read more about him.

Switchback: The three collections you have released to date—My Untimely Death, [Spoiler Alert] (co-written written Laura Eve Engel), and The Flasher—all seem to possess an overarching subject or idea on which all the collected stories are based. What made you decide to assemble your work this way? Do you have stories that will only ever be published in journals because they lack connection to a central theme you have in mind for a book?

Adam Peterson: Honestly, I think those series developed solely out of laziness. Once I found a form, it was easier to stick with it than come up with something original. And in the case of the collaboration, it gave Laura Eve and me a shared starting point on which we could both do our own thing before coming back together. But, no, it’s not something I do consciously or even imagine continuing to do in the future. I think three is enough. And I say that knowing it’s totally not true as I’ve got a fourth series—Sire Lines of America—that exists. But that’s it. No more. Most of my work doesn’t fit into this category.

SWB: Your latest book, The Flasher, follows a protagonist (the flasher) through a clear narrative arc. Many of the pieces, however, veer to what might be considered peripheral moments in the character’s life, complicating our understanding of his actions and bringing us onto his side. Can you talk a little a bit about the way you chose to sequence the collection? Why, for instance, the flasher “consults a fortune teller” or “harms a fly” at the exact moments he does?

AP: I wanted it to feel like a character going through his day. It felt necessary to have him interacting with the world in both “normal” ways and in some more surreal or metaphoric ways. I mean, that’s the fun of writing about a flasher. A person is really only a flasher when they flash someone else and since he never does…well, what it means at that point is something else entirely. I don't know if the reader should be on his side, but since he never flashes anyone—not really—it makes calling himself that seem like almost a self-judgment.

SWB: The sixty pieces that comprise The Flasher are described as “cross genre micro-narratives.” Was it always your intention for the collection to simultaneously incorporate elements of fiction and poetry? What are the thematic advantages of blurring the lines in this way?

AP: Not particularly. I let other people figure it out if they want to do so. That’s the big advantage of the blurring for me: it can be whatever, and there’s some power there for both me and the reader. The reader gets to decide if they care to categorize, I get to do whatever I want. I mean, my big joke is that I wrote the book in Microsoft Paint. It’s not true, but I certainly made the images in it and for me I love the lo-fi crappiness of them. But are those also “cross genre micro-narratives?” Something else? Just a bad idea? No clue.

SWB: There is a surprising and satisfying quality to your turn of phrase, not just in The Flasher, but in your other work as well. The way, for example, you invert the established rhythm of a sentence like, “The trees could not be put back in the ground, the bones could not be sifted from the mud, there was no verb making mountains,” in the story “The Bear Attack.” Do sentences like that come to you in a first draft or do you a lot of line-by-line chiseling in revision?

AP: Oh, probably both, I’m sure. Revision is important to me, especially in my short shorts because I’m always whittling down the word count trying to get faster and better. But, for me, that usually doesn’t mean short Hemingway-y sentences but more nimble ones.

SWB: I read “The Bear Attack” in a back issue of Hobart. In the same issue was another story by you entitled “After We Found Angelina Jolie’s Mummified Body,” which is one of the most attention-grabbing titles I’ve ever read. Do you have any that can top it?

AP: Hmm. I’d honestly forgotten about that one. It makes me sad, but I’m a pretty big fan of “We Haven’t Lost, Not if the Goal Is Dead Turtles.”