Kimberly King Parsons on Embracing the Discomfort in a Story
The Author of Black Light on The Maris Review
This week on The Maris Review, Kimberly King Parsons joins Maris Kreizman to discuss her National Book Award longlisted short story collection, Black Light, now available from Vintage.
On sitting with the grime in her stories:
Maris: The title really does provide a tool to wrap one’s head around the stories in your collection because so much of what you write is about exposing the grime on the things that we don’t want to see.
Kimberly: The things that only the black light can show you. It’s funny because there were so many other story titles, like “Glow Hunter, “Starlite,” and “The Light Will Pour In.” There was so much light there already. It’s so interesting when you’re so close to something that you can’t see it, and it took having other people looking at it to show me what it was doing. All of those stories are doing something similar with showing that hidden, grimy element that’s been there all along that you can’t see all the time.
Maris: And in this book, we make the readers really sit with that grime and get dirty themselves.
Kimberly: I like the grime. I like sitting with it. I like putting characters into positions where they are forced to confront things. A lot of these characters are trying to escape things or feel like they’ve escaped things, but then I like to put them in positions where they haven’t escaped at all.
On embracing discomfort in storytelling:
Kimberly: I think we learn a lot about ourselves by experiencing discomfort. Even at the level of construction of the book itself, I am not heavily reliant on plot. I’m not trying to encapsulate things in a way that’s easy because personally, as a reader, I like to feel uncomfortable, unsure, or a little on edge the whole time because it makes me think.
It’s not what I look for in a television show necessarily, but when I’m reading that’s what I want to feel. I want to feel confused and sort of perplexed, maybe uncomfortable, and then I want to feel astonished. Maybe that astonishment comes through the language or maybe it comes from a swerve that you weren’t expecting a character to do or a single gesture that’s heartbreaking, beautiful, or transcendent. I think that the way to do that is to walk that line where you’re never too comfortable.
On when a story is done:
Maris: What makes a story done?
Kimberly: It’s just a gut feeling, and it’s done. I always know the first line and I always know the last line. Sometimes I’m working towards that last line, and sometimes it takes ten years to serve the last line. Sometimes you find that last line really quickly, and then you’re just trying to justify it. It’s just gut.
I had a story in there that was, for all intents and purposes, finished. We were calling it done. Nobody saw a problem with it. I just knew it wasn’t right, and there was no way to explain it except to say that something was missing but I didn’t know what it was. It really just took a deadline and some weird leap of faith to say, I’m going to try this other thing. One last thing. So I did, and it felt done.
Born in Lubbock, Texas, Kimberly King Parsons received her MFA from Columbia University. Her fiction has been published in The Paris Review, Best Small Fictions 2017, Black Warrior Review, and The Kenyon Review, among others. Black Light is her debut story collection.
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