Meet Kayla Pongrac, author of the forthcoming flash fiction chapbook The Flexible Truth:
What prompted you to write a collection full of offbeat characters? Literature is full of offbeat characters but there is something uniquely charming about yours I can’t quite put my finger on—can you sum them up in just a few words?
Just as these stories came to life rather naturally and organically, so too did the characters within them. Still, I was very much aware that I was creating characters with these weird quirks and unique voices/thought processes about them, and I’m quite sure that’s because those are the types of characters that I’m typically drawn to as a reader. I just finished Miranda July’s novel, The First Bad Man, for instance, and I would like to think that my characters resemble hers in the sense that you can’t predict what to expect from them. What you see likely isn’t what you’re going to get, and that breeds intrigue. I’m all about intrigue!
If I had to sum up the characters in The Flexible Truth, I would describe them as “strugglers.” Each of them is struggling in some way—in some sad, bold, and beautiful way. I love them for that, and I hope readers will, too.
Also, I appreciate you describing this cast of characters as “uniquely charming.” I’ll have to pass that compliment on to them, as I’m sure the dentist will blush and the bartender will offer a toast.
In reading the collection, I was struck by the variety of ways in which many of the pieces can be read: as interior monologue, as a written account or journal entry, and as a confession of sorts. Was this intentional on your part, to make the reader feel as if they’re overhearing/reading private thoughts?
I can’t say that it was my intention for these stories to be read in any specific way, though I will say that these characters are definitely confessing their thoughts and feelings as best as they know how. For some, monologuing interiorly (I made that phrase up—is that okay?) appears to be the most comfortable form of expression. Take “Balloon Cocoon” as an example; you have this character who is yearning for some conversation—and answers—as she watches her sister swing in a hammock: “Sam always used to say that we would get out of this town, that we would become two sisters who traversed the earth until we fell off the face of it . . .” Here the reader gets full access into the narrator’s mind, whereas the sister doesn’t. That’s some V.I.P. business right there, isn’t it? Anyway, I think that no matter how these stories are read, readers will appreciate how the characters are unabashedly revealing themselves. Here are their homes. Here are their belongings. Here are their relationships. Here are their thoughts and here are their feelings.
The titles of the pieces are a thing of brilliance and are utterly inventive. In my experience, coming up with titles can be difficult. Can you tell us how you came up with these titles that are both jarring and inviting?
It’s funny that you and Michael W. Cox (author of Against the Hidden River) complimented me on the titles in this collection because I tend to struggle with titles. I really do. I’ve even joked with some fellow writers that I’ve considered hiring a “title generator.” The titles assigned to the stories in The Flexible Truth, however, came to fruition with little to no effort, so I’m just going to blame this blessing on two really fantastic loose leaf teas that I enjoy drinking while writing. I think these “magical teas” made me feel determined to bestow each piece a title that was representative of not only the story, but also the characters within. Would the narrator in “The Benefit of Reading the Newspaper” name the story “The Benefit of Reading the Newspaper”? I’m certain she would.
If you had to choose just one of your pieces to define your outlook on life, which would you choose?
Hmmm. I’ve felt a strong connection to “Back to Betting” from the moment I wrote it. I can relate to this character because she’s hesitant to gamble but does so anyway; she’s well aware of the inevitability of aging; she may or may not be disturbed by the fact that some things never change; she reminisces quite often and that line at the end . . . man, that line at the end haunts me so. I don’t want to give anything away, especially since “Back to Betting” is the final story in the collection, but I just adore how comfortable this character is with being alone with herself. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t know what I’d do without my husband and my family and my friends, but I have always considered it important to be able to find happiness in your own company. It’s a lovely experience, spending time with yourself. I think people should spend time with themselves more often.
Was there a ritual you used to enter the world of The Flexible Truth when you sat down to write?
No ritual. I just drank a lot of tea and listened to Vampire Weekend’s “Modern Vampires of the City” on repeat. I love that album. I mean, I really love that album. Tea + “Modern Vampires of the City” + being in a creatively vulnerable state of mind made this collection pop. And now that The Flexible Truth is in book form, I hope it sparks.
Ed’s note: You can listen to Vampire Weekend’s “Modern Vampires of the City” here.
If Murph were to get a job writing fortunes for fortune cookies, what might those fortunes look like?
Ha! I love this question. The front of the fortunes would, of course, feature one-sentence “advice” from Murph, such as “I used to be scared of picture frames,” and “I owe a great debt to Band-Aids.” The backs would depict a simple yet terribly satisfying picture of Murph’s thumb . . . and he would be giving a thumbs-up because he loves his readers, even those who stuff themselves full of Chinese food. (Now don’t tell him I told you this, but Murph slurps wonton soup like a madman. For reals.)
If you enjoyed getting to know Kayla, be sure to meet Murph, resident advice columnist to the characters in The Flexible Truth. For a sampling of Murph’s offbeat style, read this and be sure to send in your burning question!
Pre-order your copy of this extraordinary and unexpected chapbook here!