Cobalt: Your first collection, WHY WE NEVER TALK ABOUT SUGAR, deals with love in many different ways – from the way that we replace human love with affection for consumer goods in the title story, to issues of self-acceptance in “Pinocchio”, to a family torn apart by multiple sclerosis in “Strategy #13: Journal”. Is love always this complex?
Aubrey Hirsch: Probably not. Probably love is really easy sometimes. But those times don’t make very good stories. I tend to focus on the ways love can be troubled, tortured, confusing or unexpected, but also, hopefully, resilient.
Cobalt: I will admit, I nearly gave birth to a second copy of your book while reading. The prose is tight, hard-hitting, and, at the same time, very nurturing. I often felt like the narrators were coaxing me to keep going, like a mother who is telling her child a bedtime story so well and so good that the child refuses to fall asleep, clinging to that need to hear just a little bit more. On that note, I’d like to address the parent/child relationships of this story. I mentioned “Pinocchio” earlier, which is a story that deals with parental acceptance of gender issues. “Leaving Seoul” gets into pregnancy/abortion issues, and “Strategy #13″ shows a daughter struggling to find herself in a way that is separate from her ailing father. First, let me ask you about your own experience as a first-time mother. How’s that going?
Cobalt: Do you feel that your relationship with your son has changed the way you read your own work now? Has it changed the way you approach writing about parenthood? If so, how?
Hirsch: Writing fiction often means carefully imagining situations with which you might not be familiar first-hand, but having a kid is definitely great research for writing about parenthood. I’m sure these new experiences will leave their mark on my writing.
Cobalt: Travel and foreign places show up often in this book. What inspired you to use these locales in your writing?
Hirsch: Each story has its own complicated genesis tale, and the settings are part of that. But, by and large, the locations of the stories are usually inspired by my plummeting down some internet rabbit hole or another. “Leaving Seoul,” for example, was inspired by an article I read on South Korea’s illegal Hagwons (private after-hours schools for ambitious students). Other times the settings are integral to the plot. “Paradise Hardware” takes place on the coast because I needed a hurricane to chase the narrator’s Uncle Leo away from his hardware store. After the inspiration comes the research, and, almost always, little discoveries that shape the stories themselves.
Cobalt: You published a story in Cobalt, which we featured in the first print issue, “Rachel Garrett.” Talk to me about Star Trek and where this story came from.
Hirsch: I’m a big Star Trek fan, though I prefer The Next Generation to the original (sorry, purists!). I like to think of “Rachel Garrett” as a kind of literary fan fiction. Rachel appears in only one episode of the series as captain of the Enterprise-C, which has been caught in a time rift. She interested me immediately because she’s the only woman to ever captain any Enterprise ship. It’s amazing that Star Trek: TNG is set the 24th century and, apparently, women are still dealing with the same bullshit issues (at least the Federation’s elimination of money finally closed that pesky wage gap!). I began to think about Rachel as a pioneer in her own time and that was really the basis of the story. I learned more about her character and how she fit into the Star Trek universe and she’s really a fascinating woman. I think I could write a whole novel about her if I could afford the rights!
Cobalt: In the Twitter interview we did with my creative writing class, you mentioned that you typically build stories around characters. Can you speak more to this? How early in the drafting process do you determine whether the story will be character-driven or plot-driven?
Hirsch: That’s a tough question, since these things tend to evolve in my brain before I even really recognize that there’s a story brewing. I would say that most of the determination happens very early, long before I start writing. If the genesis of the story comes from a voice or a bit of dialogue, the driving force of the story will probably be the character. If the idea comes from a situation or something I read or saw on the news, then probably the plot will shape the story. But those are almost never conscious decisions for me.
Cobalt: What percentage of time would you estimate you spend on drafting and what percentage goes to revising?
Hirsch: I’m a very careful and obsessive drafter. I rewrite sentences in my head over and over again before I type them and often write three or more completely different versions of the same story before I find the one that works. I’m not sure if that counts as drafting or revising… But if I had to guess, I’d say I spend more time drafting. Usually by the time I have a draft I feel good about, all it needs is a bit of polish for me to feel like it’s ready for the world. That’s not true every time, of course, but more often than not it is.
Cobalt: Can you tell me a little bit about your experience working with Braddock Avenue Books, publisher of your debut collection? What was it like putting out your first book with such a new publisher?
Hirsch: Jeffrey Condran and Robert Peluso are the masterminds behind BAB and I can’t say enough good things about them. They are so hard-working, passionate and determined. They are brilliant editors who really care deeply for the books they put out. They were very new when I signed on with them, but they were putting out Last Call in the City of Bridges by Sal Pane, who’s a friend of mine, and I trusted him when he said they were great. I’m glad I did!
Cobalt: Do you have anything new in the works?
Hirsch: I do! I can’t say anything definite yet, but it looks like I’ve found a home for my collection of counterfactual biographies, of which “Rachel Garrett” is a part. I’m also working on a novel. And, of course, I’m always working on shorter-length projects: stories, flash fictions, and essays.
About Aubrey: Aubrey Hirsch is a proud native of Cleveland, OH. Her work has appeared in American Short Fiction, Third Coast, Hobart, The Rumpus and elsewhere. She currently teaches fiction writing in Pittsburgh, where she lives with her husband, writer Devan Goldstein, and their son. Her first collection of short fiction, Why We Never Talk About Sugar, is currently available from Braddock Avenue Books.