Featured Fiction Writer: An Interview with Samuel J. Fox
Updated: Sep 22, 2019
For this issue, we (figuratively) sat down with Samuel J. Fox to discuss "At the End of the World, a Song and Dance." Read on for our discussion about genre, suffering, the Devil, and the most important bone of all.
Ethan Brightbill: You pitched this story to our editors as a “short prose poem play about the end of the world, acolytes, a sad devil, and the cure for pain.” What does this piece have to say about pain? And what might have been lost—about pain, or anything else—with a more conventional form?
Samuel J. Fox: I find it laughable I pitched it that way. I feel the story is a hybrid of a play and a fictional narrative, at least in form, that speaks, or rather pokes fun at, biblical language and the unanswerable question of why do we suffer? When I think about this question and how for centuries we have, as a race, suffered unaccountable agonies, I think the question really isn’t why we do, but why haven’t we done anything to oppose our affiliation with destruction and the selfish wants of our species. Control, power, whatnot. Whatever your vice, there is a consequence with or without God to witness.
I think my piece speaks on the idea that if you “sin,” to use a loose term for committing to decision in a moral issue, then one should do so boldly. For example, we all know the archetype of the devil in multiple cultures, but to forgive Satan for his pride and arrogance is to rob him of the power to manipulate, if you so believe in him. The devil is synonymous in art as a creative powerhouse and champion of free will and devotion to the flesh. Which, in turn, brings suffering. Forgiveness of ourselves and others is what I think the piece is largely speaking on as well as poking a sharp stick at sexuality in biblical language, while also nudging at the idea of playfulness towards a kind of soft blasphemy.
I think, if I were still any sort of Judeo-Christian (I primarily identify as a liberated pagan), I would want my God to have a sense of humor. If He did not, I don’t know if I would get along with Him. If this piece were written in a more conventional narrative, I think I would have lost the quirkiness and strangeness of the piece. The form worked well to make it strange, and I love strangeness in literature. I feel that to be surprised is to be delighted by the unexpected, even if it isn’t entirely beautiful or true.
EB: You described your other piece published in this issue of Lammergeier as an essay in verse. What draws you to such unusual forms? And how do structure and content relate to each other in your writing as a whole?
SJF: I work as an editor for Bending Genres LLC. We run a lit magazine based around, you may have guessed, bending genres. It is what I am naturally good at discovering: finding ways to blend, blur, queer, and/or slur a genre. Structure in my essays and fiction are very important, but only necessary as form. I believe strong characters and voice are what is primarily important in fiction/nonfiction. However, content is dependent upon the characters and voice. Ergo, if I had to sacrifice one or the other, I would sacrifice the bending of the genre if a character and/or voice were strong enough on its own. I’m drawn to these forms through, primarily the lyric essay. It was my gateway into hybrid genres. However, inventive/experimental poetry and other things of poetic quality that blur the lines between genres are things I love exploring.
EB: What works or authors have influenced your writing, and what are you reading now?
SJF: As far as poetry, Eduardo C Corral’s Slow Lightning, Ocean Vuong’s Night Sky with Exit Wounds, Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic (which acts as a blurred genre piece itself in multiple ways I feel), and James Galvin’s early work are big influences on me in the past year or so. I’m also big into G.C. Waldrep’s work as well as C.D. Wright’s. Right now, I’m reading a few writing exercise books as well as The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo in preparation to host a writing workshop in my small-town community this summer. I’m also constantly browsing online journals and small presses for notable new voices.
EB: Where do you want to go next with your writing? What projects are you working on, and what goals are you working toward?
SJF: I’d like to sit down and fully work out a lyrical non-fiction work I have been toiling over. Therefore, I’ve applied to some residencies. I’m hoping to hear back soon. I’m also hoping to have a full-length poetry collection in the next four years. I’m revamping my editing style and re-evaluating how I prioritize my poetry writing, or how I write the first draft entirely and into the editing process where the real work is I believe.
EB: And finally, the most important question of all: what’s your favorite bone?
SJF: Most likely the kind that, once it breaks, can begin to heal, however slow it may be.