Interview With Cheryl Pappas

Many of the stories in The Clarity of Hunger might be classified as fantasy with a twist. What are your thoughts on genre fiction?

To me, it’s all literature. Lessing, Winterson, Calvino, Garcia Marquez. There’s just no distinction. In my own writing, I love drawing from myths, fables, fairy tales, and everyday life. 

Your collection has a lyric intensity and vibrant imagery that make the sentences memorable, yet it also includes solid plot and character. Does one aspect emerge organically from another when you compose, or is it a layered process?

Lately, my stories develop from an image I can’t let go of, and plot and character follow. When drafting “1985,” I could see that masked figure dressed entirely in black on a hot summer day on the beach, even the shimmer above the sand, so clearly. I used the mood of that image to build the plot and characters. 

Even a diverse collection is usually bound by some general theme or tendency. What’s yours?

These stories are all connected by longing or hunger, whether it be longing for oblivion, power, destruction, love, or understanding. 

A couple of your pieces use the hermit crab setup, a questionnaire or a set of math problems, and you also run a workshop devoted to this form. What attracts you to this kind of story?

Something wonderful happens in the process of subverting “static” texts—the boundary lets you play wildly against it. It’s so dynamic, and the limitation is actually freeing. It’s also a great exercise for writers approaching difficult material. It’s another way in. 

Your pieces range from a paragraph to a few pages. Given that a piece of flash fiction may be a miracle of compaction, is there anything you feel you can’t achieve in such a small interval?

In a novel you feel like you’ve witnessed a whole life of the protagonist. You know their family, their backstory, their quirks, and you can see how the person lives throughout time. In flash, there’s so much we can’t know about the character or characters. It’s such a brief moment of insight about them, but you’re getting to the heart of them. 

You’ve been writing flash fiction for about 20 years. Has the genre changed over that period, and if so, how?

When I first started writing very short stories, I never called them flash. Now it’s clearly a form, and most journals publish it. It’s fantastic to see it so widely embraced, though I think it’s much more competitive than it used to be. 

What’s your next project?

I’m building a full-length hybrid manuscript with poetry and flash, tied to the theme of confined spaces and how people negotiate them—spaces like a kitchen, a 19th-century Victorian dress, a memory, the warming Earth itself, as well as our longing and desire for freedom within that space.

            Cheryl Pappas, author of The Clarity of Hunger (Word West Press), 2022.

Cheryl Pappas
Cheryl Pappas

Cheryl Pappas is an American writer living outside Boston. Her fiction, poetry, and nonfiction have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Juked, The Chattahoochee Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. She is the author of the flash fiction collection The Clarity of Hunger, published by word west press (2021).

David Galef
David Galef