Mike and Kate Talk Books

Mike, Kate, and Hubble the dog.

Mike, Kate, and Hubble the dog.

Meet the fiction team at ONSQU: Michael Sarinsky, fiction editor, and Kate Doyle, assistant fiction editor (who Mike has saved in his phone as "My Assistant"). Though they were only sitting a few feet away from each other at the time, they chose to speak over gchat about Nell Zink, prose poems vs short shorts, fragments, and more. This is not their dog.

Kate Doyle - 3:41 PM
Hi Mike

Michael Sarinsky - 3:41 PM
This is good so far, we've established that we know each other.

Kate Doyle - 3:41 PM
Have we?
There's a really nice reflection of the sky in the windows across the street here

Michael Sarinsky - 3:43 PM
I have a view of a ladder with a rope tied to it

Kate Doyle - 3:43 PM
This is what LC [blog mastermind Laura Creste] wanted us to talk about right?

Michael Sarinsky - 3:43 PM
Yeah, we're right on track
Should we talk about fiction? I have so many questions for you

Kate Doyle - 3:44 PM
Let's talk about fiction
I probably have questions too

Michael Sarinsky - 3:44 PM
I have two real questions and then my notebook says: "free-flowing conversation about books?"

Kate Doyle - 3:45 PM
Let's start with one of those two

Michael Sarinsky - 3:46 PM
Ok perfect. Which of your favorite books is least like the rest?
The record should reflect that Kate is taking a LONG time to think about this very good question

Kate Doyle - 3:48 PM
It's a great question
Do you know your answer?
I'm mentally going over my bookshelf

Michael Sarinsky - 3:50 PM
I think so. I wrote in this blog last year about Mickey Rapkin's "Pitch Perfect," which is a non-fictional account of some college a cappella groups, and one of my favorites

Kate Doyle - 3:51 PM
What makes it different from what you usually go for?

Michael Sarinsky - 3:52 PM
It's brazen non-literariness. It's a magazine article drawn out to 200 pages. And that it was turned into an Anna Kendrick trilogy
*Its. What's our policy on fixing typos in post-production?

Kate Doyle - 3:53 PM
What makes nonfiction literary versus not?
In your view?
We're supposed to talk about fiction, though

Michael Sarinsky - 3:54 PM
We're one question in and already off-topic. Somebody's going to fire us
I guess maybe what I mean is that Pitch Perfect doesn't even feel like strong journalism. The reportage is kind of half-baked. There's a semi-professionalism to the project that makes it feel both sub-literary and, in this particular case, great
Ok hold on. I have better answers, maybe. Nell Zink's "The Wallcreeper" and Rebecca Makkai's "Music For Wartime" are each brilliant and different from my usual fare.

Kate Doyle - 4:01 PM
Can we talk about The Wallcreeper, and humor?

Michael Sarinsky - 4:02 PM
My other option is watching a ladder, and a rope, so: yes

Kate Doyle - 4:02 PM
Or making me answer your question

Michael Sarinsky - 4:03 PM
We'll circle back to that. You loved the Zink too, right?

Kate Doyle - 4:03 PM
I was completely absorbed in it immediately, in a way that I hadn't been in a book in awhile.
Especially for a book that's pretty chronological and conventional in its structure, which for better or for worse, is the kind of thing I have trouble sticking with as a reader lately
It's so funny and self-aware but in a way that's very... integrated?
But I came to a halt about 75% of the way through and couldn't stick with the end

Michael Sarinsky - 4:06 PM
It accomplishes the rare feat of surprising you with plot, I think. Almost like Jane Bowles, but with better sentences, to my mind

Kate Doyle - 4:06 PM
The sentences are incredible

Michael Sarinsky - 4:06 PM
It gets more explicitly political toward the end, doesn't it? Was that part of the turnoff?

Kate Doyle - 4:07 PM
I don't know what the turnoff was exactly. Talking about this now, I'm thinking about the word "glib."
It feels like a book whose charge, in part, comes from being so breakneck and funny and dark that it's in danger of becoming glib, or cartoon-ish -- but the great pleasure is, it doesn't. It's aware of that danger and engaging with it but not going there.
I'm not sure that remained the case at the point where I was flagging BUT then again, maybe I just should have had more grit about pressing on.

Michael Sarinsky - 4:12 PM
That seems totally right. "Integrated" as in a natural fit for the story, right? I thought of the humor as diegetic. Not a put-on, not a layer, but fully part and parcel of the recipe. It was strangely earned. I didn't have any issues with the ending.

Kate Doyle - 4:14 PM
Fair enough.

Michael Sarinsky - 4:15 PM
Maybe it doesn't become cartoonish because the politics are actually understated. Sure, they're philandering eco-terrorists, and that's played for humor, but then: climate change is horribly real and who cares about monogamy when the planet's exploding? Their concerns were honest ones, both for them and for the world. None of it felt too dramatized to me.

Kate Doyle - 4:17 PM
Did it change or inspire your own writing in some way?

Michael Sarinsky - 4:17 PM
I'm stuck in so much mud, I doubt it. Yours?

Kate Doyle - 4:19 PM
Possibly I starting giving myself a little more leeway to foreground humor

Michael Sarinsky - 4:21 PM
But your stuff has always been funny!

Kate Doyle - 4:25 PM
In the last story I wrote I had a character break both her wrists in two separate falling-down incidents. A guy asks her out by taking her by each of her casts and telling her he likes her. I guess that was a little more wacky a scenario than I usually write. But I wouldn't necessarily attribute that to The Wallcreeper. It's just what I thought of when you asked. And it seemed like a more fun answer than "No."
That wasn't a comment on your answer.
Wow, I feel mean now.

Michael Sarinsky - 4:26 PM
The record should also reflect that I just turned to Kate and told her she's mean. We're sitting maybe fifteen feet from each other.
Want to preview the fiction in our next issue?

Kate Doyle - 4:27 PM

Michael Sarinsky - 4:29 PM
Here's an easy place to start: we're publishing more pieces than usual this issue, and a lot of them are quite compact. A page or three isn't uncommon. What gives with the short shorts?

Kate Doyle - 4:34 PM
I love them. It seems worth it to note that we didn't set out to focus on short shorts in this issue. But it's such a beautiful form, and it feels contemporary and of the moment, it was some of the most precise and affecting writing we read. I've been feeling jealous of poets, lately, the emphasis they get to place on language, and what's implicit, and what's gestured at. I think you can do that in a short short. Prose poetry and short shorts are so close together, and in my view any way a writer can evade genre is exciting. Charles Simic said in a talk at NYU this fall something like "Reduced to a certain length, writing eludes genre." I love that. I think he meant the truly brief, like haiku. But still.
By the way, someone should come up with a more dignified name than "short short."
Or was I supposed to talk about a specific story? Have I failed?

Michael Sarinsky - 4:38 PM
Don't take my silence as a lack of interest. Sharon Olds just mimicked a zombie three feet from me. It demanded my attention.

Kate Doyle - 4:39 PM
I love when she does that
Happens a lot here

Michael Sarinsky - 4:42 PM
Life seems somehow more fractured these days. And I don't mean that our attention spans are shorter, or that more people are demanding our eyes.
A lot of our shorter pieces this issue capture, I think, great depth in very few words. A sense of imminent dread. That kept appealing to me. Like that's the cultural moment: "Oh shit!" and then you vanish.
Tell me if I'm wrong, but the gorgeous language in the face of disaster in so many of these shorts reminded me of, say, dancing in an abandoned playground. It's going to be an eerie issue, at least for fiction, is it not?

Kate Doyle - 4:46 PM
"Dancing in an abandoned playground," will you write that? That's striking
Yeah, everything you said here. I agree, viscerally. Dread. Eerie. That's the moment.
"Great depth in few words."
Okay, now I'm just quoting you admiringly

Michael Sarinsky - 4:48 PM
Could've gone with "putting the 'rave' back in 'graveyard'" but it felt beneath us.

Kate Doyle - 4:49 PM

Michael Sarinsky - 4:50 PM
We both write in fragments pretty often, and not usually about happy days. Were we just destined to accept a lot of those sorts of stories? I usually read long works. The longer the better, actually.
That was just three topically related sentences without any other logic to them, sorry.

Kate Doyle - 4:51 PM
It was four, actually.
Why is the fragment interesting to you when you're writing?
Or truthful?

Michael Sarinsky - 4:58 PM
It's more truthful to my normal thought process, I think. I have long internal diatribes about, say, law and ethics. When I write about those, I go on forever. But I have almost no thoughts about my relationships, my daily experiences. (Wow, that sounds inhuman.) So I just don't have as much to say when I'm writing fiction. If I go any further than the fragment, it starts feeling forced or false.
You? When you write fragments, they end up even shorter than mine.

Kate Doyle - 5:07 PM
A big part of it for me is time
It feels more truthful to order moments as the come up associatively, or emotionally, rather than chronologically, because that's how we experience time, we keep carrying moments with us and summoning them up, or having them summoned up for us whether we like it or not
And then there's something about the compression of a fragment, how intentional it feels. To me it raises the stakes immensely to read a fragment, because it's so reduced that everything must matter very much. It seems to suggest not wasting time beating around the bush. I like that too.

Michael Sarinsky - 5:28 PM
So, message to future Submittable users: fragment all your fiction to get past the Doyle/Sarinsky editorial filter?

Kate Doyle - 5:29 PM
No comment

Michael Sarinsky - 5:29 PM
Are you ever answering the original question?

Kate Doyle - 5:29 PM
It's a hard one.
My first thought was a book I first read in ninth grade
It might just be out of sync with my other favorites because I was 14
It was called "Rosie Dunne" at the time though current printings give it the hugely inferior title "Love, Rosie"

Michael Sarinsky - 5:31 PM
You don't see a lot of books these days changing their titles on subsequent printings. Bold move there.

Kate Doyle - 5:31 PM
Yeah, I don't know
It angers me every time I see it in the store
Anyway, it's all told in letters

Michael Sarinsky - 5:33 PM
What else would it be told in, NUMBERS? lol

Kate Doyle - 5:33 PM
As an aside, one (I think unintentional) quirk is that even though it covers fifty years in the lives of the two main characters, there's little reference to the larger world and the technology by which they communicate never changes
Just loosely drifting in time

Michael Sarinsky - 5:33 PM

Kate Doyle - 5:34 PM
Anyway, it's very interior and intimate and often monologue-y, which I guess aligns with what I kept being interested in

Michael Sarinsky - 5:35 PM
"Hermetic" doesn't sound too far from your style. It sounds like the kind of writing you'd like

Kate Doyle - 5:36 PM
It's pretty frank and straightforwardly emotional and not formally inventive and not aware of language so much, but it remains a favorite
I guess you could think of letters as a kind of fragment

Michael Sarinsky - 5:36 PM
Haha, ok

Kate Doyle - 5:36 PM
Oh, I get the joke.
Letters like epistolary
Not like the alphabet

Michael Sarinsky - 5:37 PM
Let's wrap?

Kate Doyle - 5:38 PM
Yeah, and maybe cut this monologue about my 9th grade extracurricular reading

Michael Sarinsky - 5:39 PM
Nah, that was great, let's leave it in. How do normal people end conversations? "Goodbye, Kate! Nice talking to you!"

Kate Doyle - 5:39 PM
Bye Mike! Let's talk about the word "hermetic" next time!

Michael Sarinsky - 5:40 PM
You're fired.

Hubble belongs to Emma Hine, former ONSQU layout editor.