Over at the Malahat, Cody Klippenstein has conducted a wonderful interview with Cynthia Flood about reading, literary influences, the power of a good short story and much else besides.
In one of your past interviews about your latest story collection, Red Girl, Rat Boy, you mentioned that your ideal reader prefers to work themselves between the lines rather than being handed the literary equivalent of a grocery list. I like that. As a reader, then, what do you look for in a great piece of fiction? What makes a story sing for you?
For me, reading good fiction combines pleasure in character, incident, imagery, dialogue with simultaneous pleasure in seeing how these work together. A story = a design.
Suppose that in the early paragraphs fig-tree and spoil and gave the alarm turn up. When bloom rotting deafened appear, later on, patterns start to form, like those in a piece of weaving on the loom. Some readers will now stay alert for related words and phrases, to enjoy how they amplify the pattern, but even readers who don’t consciously pick up on such elements can experience something of the design’s quality.
Surprise always delights me. I love it when I haven’t foreseen what’s going to occur in a story. Happily I page back in search of clues, and often discover that I saw but didn’t notice. A second reading of the story can be even more satisfying, because the plot’s known and all the pleasure can rest in seeing how the writer made it.
Generally I prefer reading about people unlike me (gender era nationality class age ethnicity, etc.), because unfamiliar experience is likely to interest me more. (There is no Frigate like a Book/To take us Lands away.) But I’m drawn too by stories and novels about elderly people who have contorted emotional lives and sometimes irrational opinions. There’s lots of such fiction around, in literature written in English!