ABP– Hi Courtney. Thank you for taking this interview.
This past summer, Alien Buddha Press was fortunate to publish your flash fiction chap “The Fermi Paradox”. What can you tell us about the process of writing/compiling this book?
CC– Thank you for the opportunity to be a Featured Artist!
“The Fermi Paradox” was a couple years in the making, but its inception goes further than that. I received my MFA in creative writing at the University of South Florida, where I studied flash fiction and wrote a collection of flash fiction for my thesis. It was during this time that I really fell in love with the form and devoted my studies to the craft, consuming many collections of flash, and writing as much short fiction as I could. I knew once I graduated, I wanted to create a chapbook from my thesis collection. However, upon graduating, I continued to write flash, take online workshops, and start writing groups. I found my footing in the flash world, and the subject matter and topics I wrote about shifted from my time as an MFA student. By the time I was ready to put together my chapbook, only a few pieces ended up making it from my thesis collection. So, the chapbook did not start how I had initially intended but looking back on it, it’s amazing to see how it organically developed.
ABP- Can you share one of the pieces from the book with us here, and tell us a little about it?
CC- Here is the first piece in the chapbook: “Carbonara.” This is one of my favorite pieces from the book. I had a lot of fun writing it, despite the plot/subject matter being a bit of a bummer. I enjoyed incorporating humor with the themes of loss and family. I came up with the idea of the piece because one of the ways my boyfriend stayed busy at home during 2020 was making carbonara pretty much every day. I was fascinated by how simple carbonara is to make, but how easy it is to screw up, especially if you don’t the use the authentic or “right” ingredients. Thus, “Carbonara” was born!
I’m driving to the Italian deli at 8:49 p.m. on a Friday night to get the right type of pecorino Romano because when I started shredding Parmesan cheese, and not Romano, over my mountain of spaghetti, I felt my grandfather’s stern gaze from heaven.
Dinner had been delayed. I’d gotten home from work, put on an episode of The Sopranos, and fallen asleep on the couch. I dreamt my dead grandfather stood next to me, hunched over his walker, which was covered in yellow smiley face stickers. His teeth were out, so his gummy smile gave me the chills when he said, “Get up, you lazy piece of shit.”
When I awoke, I realized it wasn’t a dream, but rather a memory I had of when my grandfather was alive—just three months ago—when he lived with me because no one else wanted him after the hip replacement he never fully recovered from.
“I live in a second-floor apartment,” my mom had said.
“We haven’t spoken in twenty years,” my aunt spat over the phone before hanging up.
So, it was me and Grandpappy—a name I called him in my head; in real life, he made me call him Richard—stuffed in my one-bedroom condo.
I moved into the living room, and he moved into my room, where he complained about the Grand Theft Auto and Evil Dead posters hanging on my walls, saying he felt like the devil watched him as he slept. When he wasn’t sleeping, he shuffled into the kitchen in a tea-stained nightshirt and instructed me to make him carbonara, barking the correct way to do it.
He’d make me drive thirty-nine minutes to the Italian deli and buy guanciale and fresh pecorino Romano or else I might as well not make carbonara, saying, “What kind of Italian are you, anyway?” “How could your mother fail you?” and “You probably think carbonara is supposed to have chicken in it, you little shit.”
After about forty-five times of cooking carbonara, he finally was pleased with how I made it, but then out of nowhere he stopped eating two weeks before his death like he was tired of living. His chest shrunk in on itself, revealing sharp lines of bone popping through his skin. He refused the apple sauce I gave him with his medicine churned up, and before I knew it, I was calling 911, because one morning he stopped breathing.
So now I’m at the Italian deli, but it’s closed until the next morning. I go home to an empty condo, dumping the cold spaghetti in the trash, whispering to myself, “You little shit.”
ABP- What is the art/lit scene like in St. Petersburg like these days? Have you been to any interesting events?
CC- The Tampa Bay writing literary scene is quite robust. We have wonderful writing programs at universities like USF and the University of Tampa that host readings and offer ways to connect with fellow writers, and Florida is home to a fair number of authors.
Also, I am a co-coordinator of the Tampa literary event, Read Herring. It is a monthly reading series that hosts three writers every third Wednesday. We also play interactive audience games and have prizes. It’s a great way of engaging the community—writers and non-writers alike—and I’m very proud to be involved with this series.
ABP- Do you have anything creative planned for 2023?
CC- Yes! I will continue to write flash fiction and perhaps start putting together another chapbook. I’ve recently started to experiment with micro in Sarah Freligh’s Less is More workshop, so I would love to continue to write micros. Finally, one of my longtime goals has been to do some sort of writing residency or retreat—even if it’s just a long weekend—so I would love to make this happen in 2023!
ABP- Who is your favorite author? What is your favorite book ever written?
CC- I’m actually not sure I have an all-time favorite author. I read so much, including books and individual pieces from literary magazines, that my new “favorite” author is constantly changing. However, I do have an all-time favorite book, and that is The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White. I read it as a child and have read it multiple times as an adult. In fact, it’s the only book I’ve read more than twice. I even got a tattoo of Louis—the swan from the story—about a year ago because I love that character and book so much. I’ve always been drawn to stories about the “odd one out,” and these themes resonate in my writing as well.
ABP- Thank you again for taking the time to share with us here today. If there is anything else you would like to mention, feel free to do so.
CC- Thanks, Red! I’m honored to be here and to be a part of the ABP family. One of my favorite aspects of writing is the community, so if you’re on Twitter, I would love to connect (@courtney_clute)!