Darci Schummer’s “The Interloper” is a timely, troubling piece about the ways in which evil and/or outside disturbances might manifest itself/themselves in our personal lives. Read the story here. And check out our interview below!
Keith Lesmeister: First of all, big congratulations on publishing three stories this month. That’s outstanding! It’s difficult enough to find a home for one story, let alone three. Do you have a magical formula for placing stories that you might share with us??
Darci Schummer: I wish I did! These latest publications came after a long dry spell, but I have found a couple things that help. As most writers know, it’s important to understand the type of writing—thematically and stylistically—that a particular journal is looking for. The majority of the stories I write (unlike “The Interloper”) are realist and pretty traditionally structured. That helps dictate where I choose to submit.
I also carefully keep track of all my submissions and how journals respond to my work in a spreadsheet. (Total nerd, I know.) If I get a personal rejection or an invitation to resubmit, I follow up as soon as I have something else ready to send. I grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness, so I’ve had the door slammed in my face enough times to be able to handle rejections from editors and publishers and to have the wherewithal to keep going.
Aside from all that, I think of the term “kairos,” which I talk about when I teach rhetoric. “Kairos” means choosing the opportune time to launch an argument. The same thing can be said about sending out work. “The Interloper” was picked up quickly because of the inauguration last week. Another story of mine “The Parade” was published quickly because it is a winter story, and the editor wanted it up before the seasons changed. He told me that people like reading about the season they’re currently living in. So thinking about the content of a story or a poem in conjunction with what’s going on in the outside world is important, too.
KL: While reading your work this month, and previous stories in your collection, it’s very clear that setting plays a significant role in your work. Whether it’s the streets of Minneapolis or a seemingly cozy living room, you find just the right details to enhance your work. Could you talk about setting and its role in your work?
DS: Everything happens somewhere, and what happens is shaped by where it happens. People are influenced by their environment, and they constantly interact with their environment. The characters and the setting in a particular story must work together to create a unified whole for the reader. If I’m fully submerged in the world of the story, if my concentration is good and I’m there with the characters, I see everything they see. I hear and touch and feel everything they do. I know what places and what things around them hold the most significance and why. The details seem to flow naturally when I’m connected with my characters.
KL: I was drawn into this story for several reasons, one of which was the use of the first person plural, which I don’t come across often. I like it though, especially in your story — it feels natural and adds an element of “this is happening to all of us.” Anyhow, I’m curious: did this POV emerge naturally or was it something planned from the start of the story? Also, curious, are there other first person plural stories that you might recommend?
DS: The way this story was written was kind of funny. I woke up on Thanksgiving day in a hotel in my hometown, my two older sisters sleeping in the room with me. I was thinking about politics and then had this image pop into my mind of a stranger showing up in someone’s family photographs. The thought chilled me, and I couldn’t get rid of it. So I got up, went down to the little exercise room in the hotel, and wrote the story on my phone while walking on the treadmill. To be honest, I didn’t think much about the point of view choice; it just came out that way. I just heard it my head that way. I wanted the story to have a universal quality, and I think the first person plural, which has both a warmth and a kind of anonymity to it, does that.
I haven’t read many first person plural stories either, so I don’t have one in particular that comes to mind to recommend.
KL: There’s a sense of increasing danger in this story, but it sneaks up on us in a strategic way — with how the photographs evolve from beginning to end. I hesitate to point out the obvious parallels, but instead, let me ask this: was this story written in the last couple of months?
DS: Yes, it was. I read a lot of news, and I try to keep up with current political and social issues. Sometimes—not always—writing becomes an outlet for how I feel about being human in 21st century America.
KL: Do you normally work at such a fevered pitch? I mean, from story beginning to publication in just two months is a quick turnaround. The other part of this question is, if I may ask something personal: do you find solace in constructing narratives during troubling moments in your life or others?
DS: I actually consider myself to be a slow writer. I take a long time with revision, and sometimes I take a long time waiting for responses before submitting to a new set of journals. This story was an exception. It came out quickly and did not require a lot of revision. I was pretty diligent about submitting it right away because of the timing, as I mentioned earlier on.
I absolutely take solace in constructing narratives. Writing is a place of safety and freedom for me and has been since I was a little kid. How else can you make anything you want to happen actually happen? How else can you finally defeat your enemies? How else can you find the courage to say something that’s been stuck in your throat?
KL: Let me pivot here and ask about your work at community colleges, because I too work at one, and I know you’ve taught at a couple, at least. I’m wondering how teaching, specifically at a community college, has influenced your work as a writer.
DS: Since most of my students aren’t rushing off to become English majors at universities (although some are), I’m often trying to convince people of the power and beauty of good writing. Essentially, I’m like a salesperson. I have to create a strong pitch to get people to listen to me, which takes creativity, research, and planning. The downside to this is that it eats up a lot of time. The upside to it is that I’m always learning new angles from which to approach writing or new ways in which to understand how the texts we study in class were created. Constantly learning and constantly being surrounded by texts feeds my creative process.
Another thing of note that comes to mind is the different people I come in contact with by teaching at this level. I have taught students from all over the world—Liberia, Somalia, Thailand, Moldova. I have taught old students, young students, parents, teachers, lawyers, and civil war survivors. I have heard some of the most heartbreaking and some of the most inspiring stories imaginable, and I have met some of the most resilient, talented, and interesting people I could ever hope to meet. I carry these people and their stories with me as I work.
KL: Let me now return to the first question, which mentions your wonderful month of publications. Are you working on another collection of stories? If so, what’s been different about working on this one versus your first?
DS: I finished a novel awhile back and have been working on publishing that. I started another collection of stories, one that was set in a fictional rural Wisconsin town, but I have put that on hold while I work on a second novel. Working on a longer project has actually fit into my busy schedule better because I can chip away at it day after day. It’s harder for me to put down a story and then come back where I left off. But the short story is my first love, and I never go too long without writing one. Even these novels I’ve worked on have chapters that really are structured like short stories.
KL: Last question: how do you prefer your potatoes: mashed? baked? au gratin? deep fried? other?
DS: It’s a tie between mashed potatoes and French fries!
Darci Schummer, a Wisconsin girl, is the author of Six Months in the Midwest (Unsolicited Press, 2014) and the co-author of Hinge (broadcraft press, 2015). Her work has appeared in Midwestern Gothic, Midway Journal, Necessary Fiction, and Revolver, among other places. She splits her time between Minneapolis and Duluth, Minnesota, and teaches writing at Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College.