The Next Big Thing: An Interview with Nancy Stohlman

Thanks to Carolyn Zaikowski for inviting me into this writerly conversation! Read about her new book, A Child Is Being Killed, forthcoming in June from Aqueous Books.

And now, without further adieu:


What is your working title of your book?

The Monster Opera and Other Bible Stories
Where did the idea come from for the book?

Originally The Monster Opera and my flash fiction stories were separate projects, but once I started writing I realized they were all part of one single manuscript.

THE MONSTER OPERA: I remember very clearly the day I accidentally found Gertrude Stein’s libretto to Four Saints in Three Acts. I was already a fan of opera, but surprisingly I’d never really thought about the libretto of an opera (the written “script”)—which might seem weird since I’m writer! But when I started reading her libretto—and it was pure opera AND pure Stein—I became totally inspired. There is a quote by Susan Sontag, and I’m paraphrasing here, about the novel and opera being the two most antiquated forms, the forms that have evolved the least over their lifetimes, and since I was already a novelist I decided to write a story that met in the cross section between the two. So The Monster Opera is neither and both and ultimately asks the question, “Who owns a story?”

I’m also lucky to be in creative partnership with Nick Busheff, who is an amazing composer. He’s taught me a lot about opera and classical structures and he scored the first 15 pages for a live reading/performance about a year ago.

AND OTHER BIBLE STORIES: The absurdist world of the flash fiction stories that precede the opera came only recently. Having spent a lot of time immersed in the world of flash fiction thanks to my involvement with Fast Forward Press, I originally I thought I was collecting my previously written/ published flash fiction stories for a separate story collection, but soon I found the flash stories were taking me into an entirely new, surreal direction and ultimately hooking up with The Monster Opera.
What genre does your book fall under?

Absurdist. Surrealist. Experimental. Genre-bending. Flash Fiction. Collections. Opera Librettos. It is a collection of 29 flash fictions and one flash opera, which is a story using the form of an opera libretto.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

None. Dear God, no. (Although Bernadette Peters might make a good Magdelena in a staged version.)
What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

“Twenty-nine absurdist flash fictions and one flash opera.”
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Depends how you count.  The short answer is one year for each section, with an additional year in between to break down and question if I should really be a writer.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I adore the story collections of George Saunders and Lydia Davis. The Monster Opera was of course inspired by the opera libretto, Four Saints in Three Acts by Gertrude Stein, as well classic books like Frankenstein and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Well, as I said I thought for a long time that these were separate projects. I owe much of the synthesis and the big picture shift to fellow writer Rob Geisen, who was working on a poetry manuscript at the same time. We spent much of the summer in a writing dialogue, and both of our manuscripts grew in unexpected ways from the cross-pollination. So I guess you could say I was inspired by poetry!

Nancy Stohlman~January 17, 2013

Next week, look for exciting interviews by:

David Wagner, talking about his new science fiction manuscript, What Marvoulous Things Await to Be Seen.

Bryan Jansing, talking about his new non-fiction book, A Guide to the Microbreweries of Italy.

Nate Jordon, talking about his new chapbook, Vinnie Palmieri.