Cobalt: The first time we met, I had the pleasure of hearing you read “Death and the People” – the opening story from your collection MAY WE SHED THESE HUMAN BODIES. This story sets a great tone for the rest of the book, which is packed modern fables both grim and wickedly entertaining. Do you have favorite fables from when you were a child (or more recently)?
Sparks: I do! I love fairy tales and fables, always have – and my absolute favorites have always (shockingly) been the saddest ones. So of course I especially dig Hans Christian Andersen’s The Wild Swans, The Snow Queen, the Little Mermaid, and The Steadfast Tin Soldier. I’ve always loved the real Sleeping Beauty, too. Even the ones I like that have happy endings are really about the dark underbelly of humanity.
Cobalt: Does death really look like a J. Crew model?
Sparks: Ha! Well, maybe not a J. Crew model (I think I made Death preppy because I wanted him to be kind of a stick-up-the-arse type) but surely Death is totally hot, right? He must be to lure away so many people from life.
Cobalt: Multiple stories in this collection deal with death in a sort of familiar way. Like death could be an old acquaintance, or maybe isn’t really a big deal. I think to “The Ghosts Eat More Air,” which reads: “There are no clocks in the land of the dead. There are no wristwatches, no calendars, no way to keep track of time…The dead are as dead as doornails…the land of the dead is no bigger than a small cottage.” What type of relationship will your reader develop with death and the dead after reading this book?
Sparks: I’d like to say that I hope the reader feels a little more entertained by death, if nothing else. But in reality I suppose I’ll probably impose my paranoia and fears of death on all my readers, too.
Cobalt: When the bell rings in each of your stories, the reader gets punched in the face with a hard right-hook. “Glen’s father dies in a Burger King.” or “Kay keeps lists of everything; it’s her illness.” or “The year the earth froze hard as diamonds and the sky rained ash, my great-grandparents met and married.” I wonder: do you begin at these points and let your stories develop from them, or do you flesh out the story and then return to the open and pack in the punch during the revision stage?
Sparks: It really depends. I’m a strong believer in the power of a good first sentence, so if I have a good story without a good opening, that’s one of the first things that gets tinkered with in revision. I hate pussyfooting openings. I definitely believe in starting out solid ground and then you can pussyfoot from there if you want. But yeah, a lot of times I will think of a line and the story comes from it – I think that’s probably partly due to the influence of fairy tales on me. It starts with the once upon a time, there was a witch or whatever, and now we know what world we’re in. We know how to orient ourselves. I think that’s really important in a story.
Cobalt: I recall you were into the whole acting thing – or may still be? – and I was tickled to see that you share an appreciation for Ionesco (one of my favorites). Do you think that your theatrical knowledge has informed your writing methods or style? Have you done any acting lately?
SPARKS: Yep, I used to be an actor, many moons ago. I do love Ionesco, as both a writer and as an actor. I do think theater has subtly shaped my writing, though I”ve been writing much longer than I was ever acting so I think if anything the influence went mostly the other way. You do learn a lot about dialogue, about pauses, about the white space around the text and how real people sound. Though I still kind of suck at dialogue, so I don’t what that tells you. I don’t act anymore though I”d love to again someday, when I have a job and the time it allows.
COBALT: What are a few of the books on your “To Read” list?
SPARKS: Oh my goodness. I have a To Read bookshelf – seriously, an entire bookshelf of stuff I need to read. But immediately in the pile: Karen Russell’s new book, Matthew Salesses’ brand new book I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying, The Collected Poems of Hart Crane, Evan S. Connell’s Points for a Compass Rose, and a biography of Nile Explorer John Speke.
Cobalt: I was also fortunate enough to meet the great Robert Kloss (author of ALLIGATORS OF ABRAHAM) at the event where we met. And you’ve teamed up with him for a new project: THE DESERT PLACES (which features illustrations by Matt Kish, as well). Tell us about that.
Sparks: Cool that you asked about this, because Rob and I just got to see the interior of the book for the first time today, and oh, MAN is it a beautiful thing. You guys are going to be so damned excited when you see it. ALL you guys. It started out as just this thing for fun that Rob and I wrote together, and then it ended up being pretty fantastic, and then the amazing Matt Kish wanted to illustrate it, and then Curbside Splendor wanted to publish it, and now here we are! It comes out in October and it’s a hybrid text, gorgeous illustrations alongside a selection of flash fictions about the history of evil on earth. Past present and future. It’s pretty badass, I have to say.
Cobalt: Anything else on the horizon that we should know about? Feel free to share any plans for world domination here.
Sparks: There a novel on the horizon, as well as another short story collection…but that’s long term. In the short term, I plan to go home, eat some dinner ,drink some wine, and play with my cats. You know, like any good stereotypical writer.
About Amber: Amber Sparks is the author of MAY WE SHED THESE HUMAN BODIES, and co-author of the forthcoming THE DESERT PLACES, written with Robert Kloss and illustrated by Matt Kish. She lives in Washington, DC with two beasts and another human, and she lives online at www.ambernoellesparks.com or @ambernoelle on Twitter.