In simple, rhythmic, nail-sharp prose, the cast of unnamed characters in The State of Kansas survive a flood, brush their teeth, drink, attend a sinister dinner party, try to love others, think a lot about death (animal and human), and weigh the confusion of trying to and a place—decent or otherwise—in a big, beautiful, and often unforgiving America.
The Writer: What was the inspiration for this book?
Spallholz: Well, The State of Kansas is more or less a collection of short prose pieces, so speaking in terms of content there isn’t one singular idea that drives the book. Certainly there are recurrent themes, ideas, questions that emerge among the pieces, but each piece is meant to stand alone. I suppose that at during the time of writing the manuscript, I was fascinated more by form than by anything else. I was enamored of brevity and repetition, of sound in general. These are still very important elements in the work I make now.
The Writer: How did you “find” the characters?
Spallholz: The characters that make appearances in Kansas are not fleshed. They don’t even have names. They appear briefly, present their situation, then disappear. I never meant to know them deeply aside from their quick moment, and the reader isn’t meant to either. The particulars of their histories are not important to the work, which largely illuminates an immediate, very present-tense arrangement of circumstance, conflict, emotion, and logic. That said, all of the protagonists in the book are female, and are hovering in their mid to late twenties and early thirties … which, go figure, was where I was at when writing it.
The Writer: What did you do when the going got tough?
Spallholz: There were definitely moments when I felt like I would never finish, but I just reminded myself that finishing wasn’t an emergency, and I took my time. During the years of writing the book I hung out with a lot of writers, too, which was a good motivator. I am now a full-time single mother and full-time professor, and am finishing a second manuscript — so the obstacles that I am dealing with currently feel much more significant in my new perspective than the obstacles I was facing during the writing of Kansas. But the way I deal with them is largely the same. I tell myself to man up (yeah, for real), and to take myself and my work as a writer both more and less seriously.
Julianna Spallholz’s short fiction and prose has appeared in Caketrain, Denver Quarterly, NOO, Sleepingfish, and elsewhere. Her first book, The State of Kansas, was published by GenPop Books in 2012. She lives with her son Phineas in the Berkshire mountains of western Massachusetts, where she is an Associate Professor of English at Berkshire Community College. She is at work on a second collection of fictions.