For this issue, our featured fiction writer is Francisco Delgado, author of "Animals." Join us for a conversation on the nature of flash fiction and how language can orient us in the world and give us the means to imagine a better one. Ethan Brightbill: What impressed me about this story is that it reads like a fable on race and the news cycle in America without simplifying either issue. How did you address such complex issues with depth and nuance in just over two pages? What obstacles and opportunities did the fable form present?
Francisco Delgado: Thank you so much for the kind words! I had the idea to write this in the
form of a fable from the very beginning. I can’t explain why: I’ve never worked in this genre before. But something about our current political moment – maybe everything about it - compelled me to write in an entirely new style. I suppose this was my way of beginning to explore how I can creatively address all that is going on in our country – and in the world.
But I also didn’t want to overwhelm the reader with details. I think many of us already feel a sense of burnout or fatigue with the endless barrage of news stories that, on their own, should require our undivided attention. Fascism is on the rise. Climate change has made many of us mindful of what type of world we are leaving for our children and grandchildren. There are just so many things that are urgent, up to and including how we speak to and about one another. I wanted to touch on all of that! The fable form gave me the means to do so, I think, because it does not feel the need to explain everything to the reader or even connect the details. There’s something associative about many fables that require readers to forge connections and tease out the meaning on their own. That type of approach seemed most appropriate.
EB: Language is at the heart of this story’s message. It can “become reality… create and destroy nations, cultures, and languages.” However, the ending suggests that language can also help us preserve our humanity. I was hoping you’d share more on your thoughts on language and what role it can play in building a more humane future.
FD: Absolutely. I believe language and literature help us imagine what type of future we want for ourselves. Sometimes that means it reflects the world that we inhabit. Sometimes it means imagining a different kind of reality that allows us to better identify what changes need to be made in our own. But initiating the type of change that some of us might want – and have begun voting for – can seem messy and complicated. We might not know how to begin. Language, and the narrative patterns they create, can make those processes seem more material for us.
Language also reveals how we engage with one another, how we can help each other heal. In the last few years, I started studying the Seneca language of western New York. This started out as a way to connect with my grandmother, who was adopted out of her community in the 1940s and took most of her adult life to re-embrace her culture. She passed on in June, but she liked hearing about my studies. She was so understanding when work and life commitments kept me from studying as much as I, or either of us, would have probably liked. Ultimately, she believed – and I’m sure this is where I get it from, to an extent – in the potential of language.
There is strength in the words we learn, the words we use, the words some of us fight for.
EB: You have a chapbook out with Honeysuckle Press called Adolescence, Secondhand that blends fiction and nonfiction yet touches on some of the same issues as this story. What connections do you see between that work and “Animals?” What challenges did each pose?
FD: The chapbook was such a long time coming. I now read through Adolescence, Secondhand and it’s like traveling back in time. I see how I changed as a writer from roughly 2009 – 2016 and can almost even figure out what writers and styles I was drawing from. “Animals” certainly extends many of the themes in those stories and poems. It grapples with race and racism and the importance of storytelling in maintaining and developing communities. These topics obviously do not come with pat resolutions, so I imagine they will factor into my work going forward. The challenge with these works, as is the case with everything I work on, is in the selection and arrangement of details. With shorter forms – like flash fiction, like prose poems – I think the details on the page and the details that have been taken off work in tandem.
EB: Where do you see your writing going from here? What forms are you currently interested in, and what projects are you pursuing?
FD: For whatever reason, I am drawn right now to stories that rely heavily on imagery and metaphor. So maybe because of that, I am working on a couple of other stories that utilize the fable form. I am in the early stages of figuring out how to finalize these pieces and, of course, what to do with them afterward.
In addition to them, I am revising a novella loosely based on my high school years in upstate New York at the turn of the century. The manuscript and I seem to be at an impasse at the moment as to what form it will inevitably take. It keeps insisting it’s a novel, and I keep insisting otherwise.
EB: Lastly, our favorite question here at Lammergeier: what’s your favorite bone?
FD: The wishbone.