Featured Fiction Writer: Emily Capettini
Updated: Sep 24, 2019
In each issue of Lammergeier, we choose one writer in each genre to receive an honorarium and speak with our readers in an interview. This time, Fiction Editor Ethan Brightbill is talking with Emily Capettini, author of "Self-Portrait as Daphne Blake," "Velma Swing Dances," and "Daphne Didn't Know a Person Could Be This Tired." Join us for a discussion on subversive women, pop culture, and what writing, yoga, and aerial hoop have in common.
Ethan Brightbill: First, the question I’ve had since reading your other stories in Passages North: what lead you to using Daphne and Velma, characters with more than a passing resemblance to the companions of a certain cartoon dog, in such wonderfully lyrical flash fiction? What challenges and opportunities did they create for you?
Emily Capettini: I’ve always been interested in pop culture and the stories we attach ourselves to. If you ask someone about their favorite character, you get these rich answers about what resonates with them about this character.. I’m especially interested in how there are often things decided or widely-accepted about a character, even if this information is not evident in the original source.
That said, what led me to these flashes was nothing nearly so thoughtful. I had been watching a marathon of House Hunters and thought about who would be the most humorous set of characters to place in that environment. The first flash was about Fred and Daphne house-hunting, but it became clear to me the joke had a limited run. Instead, I thought about what weight each character held or what they represented to an audience…and it’s no surprise I wandered back to Velma, who is widely-accepted as a queer character.
As for challenges, the fact that these two characters are so recognizable was something I had to work very consciously around. How to write flash fiction that uses Velma and Daphne, but is not taken over by the characters? At the same time, their recognition meant I could make an occasional joke and investigate what goes unnoticed by the original cartoon: what are the emotional and social repercussions for these teenagers (!) spending their evenings and weekends catching criminals? Even more fraught: how many of these criminals are related to people in their community and what is the fallout there?
EB: I understand you also have a chapbook coming out called Girl Detectives from Porkbelly Press. What can you tell us about these stories as a whole that a reader might miss if they’ve only read the ones published in Lammergeier?
EC: The ones published here in Lammergeier are mostly focused on Daphne, but the reverse is true in Girl Detectives. I just couldn’t figure out Daphne initially. She is pretty, rich, and danger-prone, but her character is so tied to Fred, it took a while to untangle who she is without him. When I started with Velma, a timeline began to form. Knowing when Velma left meant I could fill in what happened to Daphne after that change.
Girl Detectives is the first part of their stories: moving away from the limited roles the two of them have played or hidden in and discovering who they are without someone else trying to tell them.
EB: Language is at the heart of flash fiction, and especially these stories. What writing or authors have influenced the way you use words?
EC: I’m influenced a lot by poetry and always have been. I love the way Ada Limón uses language, like in “The Leash,” where she has a line about hearing a “wound closing like a rusted-over garage door,” and how quickly that poem’s emotional stakes rise. In many ways, poetry has taught me a lot about flexibility of language. What words can carry multiple meanings and will do more work in a small space? Similarly, I have learned a lot about efficiency in fiction from science fiction writers like Ursula K. Le Guin, who builds unknown worlds without breaking narrative stride. The way she uses voice in The Left Hand of Darkness and alternates between first-person narrators and myths was especially illuminating for me. So much gets done in these works! What can I build in the space I have?
Another early fiction influence about how to use language was Kelly Link. I still often think about that moment in Link’s “Travels with the Snow Queen” where the narrative comes to a screeching halt to ask: “Ladies. Has it ever occurred to you that fairy tales aren’t easy on the feet?” When I read this story, I thought, oh. Fiction can confront and comment and still be its own story.
More recently, I’ve been admiring the language of Carmen Maria Machado and Sofia Samatar. Machado’s language is beautiful and terrifying, walking these lines of desire/terror and known/unknown in a way that is both familiar and deeply unsettling. Each of her sentences feels like it holds a ghost. Samatar’s writing tends to sneak up on me, and it’s often not until I’ve finished one of her stories I realize how closely the narrative or character has drawn me in. Her language balances humor and pain in a way that lends weight to both without undercutting either.
EB: With your chapbook completed, what’s next for you and your writing? What lies on the horizon?
EC: I have a long-term goal of a full-length collection, but I’m not sure yet if it will be just Velma and Daphne or if I will incorporate other famous “girl” detectives, like Nancy Drew, Bess Marvin, and George Fayne; Irene Adler; Harriet Welsch; and Violet Strange. The girl detective genre is much more extensive than I first realized, and I’ve always had a weakness for subversive female characters.
Beyond those flashes, I’ve been working on short stories that retell urban legends and ghost stories like Bloody Mary, Resurrection Mary, and the Rougarou. I’m fascinated by how there are ghost stories that can only exist in one place. What is it about that physical landscape that prompts a scary story? Beyond that, so many ghosts are women who are silent in their own stories—what happens when they talk?
EB: Finally, the traditional Lammergeier closer: what’s your favorite bone?
EC: I’m cheating a bit with this answer, since it’s two bones: the knuckle. Easily underestimated, but important to three things I practice regularly: writing, yoga, and aerial hoop. Plus, as someone who loves to cook, a beef or pork knuckle levels up stews, beans, and broths.