This month’s story comes to us from Ghost Parachute. Ghost Parachute puts out monthly issues, each featuring six bold flash stories under 1,000 words. And along with always putting out great writing, I love that GP also has a couple amazing artists that produce original artwork for each piece. This FLASH on the FIVE spotlight – “Carhartt Brown” -- comes from their July 2021 issue and is written by Brianne M. Kohl. It's not a traditional narrative, but ends up telling so much more story. Click below to read this fantastic piece and head on back for the interview with Brianne.
Favorite line: They aren’t following me, they’re simply built into my landscape, no disrespect, ma’am, holding doors open and spitting chew into empty Mountain Dew bottles, telling me you ain’t that smart but God how they laugh their asses off when I crack a dirty joke.
Oftentimes I struggle in a story trying to choose my favorite line, but not here. Even though there are so many beautifully-crafted descriptions, this one jumped out at me immediately, and I keep returning back to it. First, in the beginning of this line, I’m obsessed with the phrase “they’re simply built into my landscape.” This says everything about our narrator! Even though the lion’s share of the story is describing these boys, it’s really this female whose lens we see them through that lies at the heart of the piece. And she doesn’t just observe them and doesn’t just know them, but they are built into her landscape. This beautifully and brilliantly says so much about her and her world.
And then the second half of the sentence: “…telling me you ain’t smart but by God how they laugh their asses off when I crack a dirty joke.” Again, this partial line is screaming volumes about these people. These boys think they hold the power, but man are they wrong. She holds all the power, and she knows it. Brianne has a pitch-perfect way of laying out this world and these characters down to the smallest detail, and listening to her talk about it gave me even more insight to what’s going on here:
1. I'm always curious about where stories come from, that first tiny seed. What was the inspiration or idea-spark for “Carhartt Brown”?
The inspiration for "Carhartt Brown" came from a writing prompt in one of Tommy Dean’s Micro workshops. Highly recommend, if you get a chance. For this piece, the first line came first – that tactile sense of color and fabric and what it represents. I remember jotting it down in the notes section of my phone and sitting with it for a few days and letting the rest come later. My phone is full of odds and ends like this. Phrases that pop into my head that will eventually (hopefully) become something. It’s important for me to write it down wherever I am so I don’t lose it. I do it a lot on my runs so sometimes notes are misspelled or make no sense. I look at them later and have no clue what I was thinking. Sometimes I’ll go back and find pure gold in those notes.
2. The majority of this piece is obviously the brilliant, crystal clear description of “the boys in Carhartt Brown”, but I love that we don’t see them through a distant, objective narrator. But rather, as our main character says more than once, “I know them” and “I’ve met them all” which makes me more interested in her. It’s such a unique POV (that you execute perfectly) to learn about her ONLY through how she sees these boys. How did you come about telling her story in this way? And why do you think it’s so effective?
Thank you very much for saying such kind things about my story! I really appreciate that! I always approached the main character through a very tight lens. I guess this piece could be considered auto-fiction. Is it creative nonfiction? This piece blurs some lines, for sure. Ultimately, I wrote it with one goal: to find the truth of my reaction to a certain subgroup of men of whom I am intimately familiar.
So, I would agree that the story is more about the narrator than the boys, really. The narrator has learned, through her upbringing and culture, that she is viewed and characterized almost exclusively through their gaze and power. It’s effective, I hope, because it turns that notion on its head – she’s the one viewing them, identifying and classifying them. Her act implies a need for resistance and ultimately a vulnerability when she chooses to go back inside the barn with them.
3. Another thing I love about this story is the rhythm and pacing. The way the dialogue comes in those pairs and there are often lists of three, etc. How aware are you of the pacing as you’re writing? Do you naturally write with this rhythm or is it something you craft in revision? How important do you think pacing/rhythm is in flash compared to longer forms?
I do make a conscious choice to find a rhythm when I’m working on flash or micros but a lot of that is done in editing. For instance, the dialogue was added in later drafts because I felt the reader needed a few beats between dense paragraphs. It makes the reading more enjoyable, I think. The syntax is more fun to read out loud.
I am always aware of pacing when I’m writing but I’m not always good at it. First drafts are never good but are always aspirational. I edit as I go along so I usually have the mood in mind as I’m writing. Once I figure it all out, I’ll do several brutal clean up edits until I feel like its right. Even then, I’ll have to let it sit for a while and come back to it and clean up more.
I think pacing/rhythm is important in all writing but in my longer work, I can relax a bit more. It has to be so tight in micros and flash – very intentional and visible. In longer pieces, it can be distracting so you want it to be subtle and carry the reader along without distracting them.
4. By far my favorite line of the story is in that last paragraph – “They aren’t following me, they’re simply built into my landscape…” it says so much about her and how she’s maybe not as separate from these boys as she might have earlier let on. But do you see this line as her saying she is stuck – in this town, with these people, and she might as well accept it? Or do you see it more positive – that even though they may be a little rough around the edges, they are her people and she’s embracing it?
I think regardless of where she goes, those boys will be there because she (her body and mind) is the landscape. The central tension of the piece is does she feel safe with these boys? They are wild and uncontrollable for her but she has a need for their acceptance. She may not know who she is without them. But, it’s painfully obvious that they would never consider their own identities in the same way – she’s not a source of tension for them in the same way. Her gaze does not impact them. She is not built into their landscape which makes them a fascination.
But, still, she takes her power where she can and so she watches them.
5. What are you working on now, and where can we see more of your writing?
I’m working on a collection of essays called “Greetings from Survival Town” about the cycles of generational trauma, serious physical illness, sexual trauma and harassment, and all the languages of silence we use to ask for help. All of my essays are written through the lens of scientific breakthroughs or earthly tangibles - a hayfield, an octopus, old linen-style postcards, the laws of thermodynamics, the Voyager 1 space probe and then I try to narrow it down and make it personal, specific. The common theme throughout each is that human need for connection and communication and how so much of our technological innovation is primal.
I’ve also been publishing my short fiction and creative nonfiction for a long time and most of my publications can be found at my website: www.briannekohl.com. You can also find me on Twitter: @briannekohl. I love talking to folks and hearing from them so please say hi!