Featured Fiction Writer: Cathy Ulrich
For this issue, we discussed flash fiction with Cathy Ulrich. Read on for a conversation about genre, unconventional WMDs, objectification, and a very sad dog. (Spoilers: The dog makes it out okay.)
Ethan Brightbill: Your work in this issue seems to sit squarely between flash fiction and prose poetry. What about these stories made you decide they were fiction? And how (if at all) does that change how the reader interacts with your writing?
Cathy Ulrich: I guess I consider these stories fiction because I tend to write fiction! The Apocalypse Girlfriend series definitely has more of a hybrid/poetic feel than many of my other stories, but there is always an element of musicality to my writing. Or I hope there is! A lot of my writing focuses on sound and rhythm in addition to story — these pieces just take that focus to the next level.
EB: With each of these stories, the eponymous girlfriend is literally objectified, yet there's also a strange sort of freedom here — she can be seemingly anything imaginable. I was hoping you'd speak to the tension between those things a bit.
CU: Oh, I hadn’t even thought of that! Yes, she is being literally objectified — that’s such a great insight! But the truth is, in this series as I’m writing it, there is less freedom for the girlfriend as object than you might imagine. In each story, she is constrained by certain rules as to what she can be. I’m not sure it’s obvious what that is from this particular trio, but hopefully, if people read all of the Apocalypse Girlfriend stories, they will see exactly what she is.
As far as the tension between the objectification and the freedom, because of those constraints, there is actually less freedom for her than the reader might first believe. Gosh, I’m being a bit wishy-washy here, but I don’t want to give away the “rules” for these stories — I really hope readers will pick up on it on their own!
EB: What works, fiction or otherwise, influenced these stories and your writing more generally?
CU: The first piece in the Apocalypse Girlfriend series, “Your Girlfriend as a Weapon of Mass Destruction,” was inspired by a manga I read ages ago (which also inspired another couple of stories of mine, about a girl who becomes a robot), Saikano. The girlfriend in this manga is literally a weapon of mass destruction. For some reason that I can’t remember, the military modified her into this unimaginable weapon. But at the same time, she is still a teenage girl. It’s an interesting, but incredibly depressing, manga. So it was the idea of your girlfriend as a weapon of mass destruction that inspired this series, but it’s definitely more metaphor than reality here.
As far as works that inspire my writing in general, it’s hard to really point to anything specifically — I read a lot, and I love music and all sorts of art. But if I could name-drop a few writers I really admire, I’m always inspired by people like Tara Isabel Zambrano, Kathy Fish, JJ Peña and so many other amazing writers creating beautiful works of flash fiction.
EB: You published a fiction collection, Ghosts of You, with Okay Donkey Press in 2019. What projects, small or large, are you working on now?
CU: I don’t have a specific project in mind at the moment, but a lot of my work tends to come in the form of series. The Ghosts of You collection contains many of the Murdered Ladies stories, but I’m also working on my Japan series, the At the End stories, the Girl Detective stories, the Astronaut Love stories and this newest series, the Apocalypse Girlfriend stories. So maybe if I get myself organized, I can get to work on another collection!
EB: And last of all, what’s your favorite bone?
CU: You know, I don’t think that I have a favorite bone, but definitely my least favorite bone is the one my poor dog dug out of our neighbors’ trash and got it lodged in her jaw so we had to take her to the vet to have it removed. I don’t think she’s too fond of bones anymore, either.