In today’s Issue 049 author interview, Erin MacNair talks about her story “Thin Crust” and the importance of having fun while writing.
LSQ: Reading this was a rollercoaster of “what if” scenarios racing through my mind, and by the end of it I kind of wanted to laugh along with the scientists, just to dispel some of the tension! You do a brilliant job of keeping the reader guessing. What inspired this story?
Erin: The hope is that you do laugh at the absurdity of our demise! I think we all worry to some degree about the world ending, an existential gear that’s grinding in the background of our thoughts. I know I do. So the craziness of the idea that we might just be eaten for a snack helps me in some way, helps me realize worrying about something I can’t do much about isn’t healthy for me. Many people have religion to help them sort out their fears, I applaud it; I use short stories. Whatever works! Whether or not this will actually help anyone else let go of things they cannot control is a mystery, but at the very least I hope to bring a laugh or two.
I’d also been reading about people who believe in a flat earth, marveling at how one comes to dispel the science proving otherwise. As I was thinking about this, I took a bite of cracker, and thought, yeah, so the earth is like this, and I’m just having a bite. And the idea came into my head, and I began making some notes, all starting with “what if”. Often my ideas start with a question, and seeing what the answer is often not what I expect! I don’t usually come to ideas while snacking, though. Usually it’s right before I’m trying to fall asleep!
LSQ: How did you decide on the structure of “Thin Crust,” which perspectives to take on the calamity at hand?
Erin: I love weaving a braided narrative, a back and forth that leaves a reader guessing. It’s my favorite way to tell a story: I just have to keep the reader wanting to stay on the ride. I had a few random ideas for who might “witness” the event, and just went from there. I’m not even sure how I came to decide the locations, because I’ve never been to any of the places mentioned. I just knew I wanted the locations to be beautiful, places I’d want to see one day. I wrote down the ideas, and did the research afterward to make sure they were sound and rooted in reality, places one could actually get to. I did have a vision of the people in the boat yelling “agghhhh” which made me laugh out loud. I knew that scene had to be in there. I’m a big fan of irony and dark humor, as you can tell.
I wanted to start with a fisherman, staring out to sea, because the ocean is this giant powerful force that sustains so much life. I wanted to start with its contemplation, and a person who’d devoted his life to it, let him be the first to see our end. There is something about the noble call of the lone fisherman that appeals to me as well, as one who feeds others.
The scientist was there in my thoughts as someone who might try and save us-but in the end he just accepts something science could never explain. The couple came to mind as two people yearning for meaning in their lives, trying to find their way but going in opposite directions. I just ran with a few ideas and filled in the rest as they came, really.
LSQ: One of the things about your story that I really appreciate is how you managed to get me invested in every person you spoke through and about, even if it was just with a few lines of text. Was this a story that flowed easily for you, or did you pore over every sentence making sure it had the meaning you were going for?
Erin: That’s great, thank you. Knowing your characters land well with readers is always something a writer wants to hear! And this story came out in a flood, almost of its own volition. I’d like to think it’s what happens when the muse is with you.
I wrote the whole piece in one session, something I almost never do. Then I fleshed out the characters, checked the science was correct, the locations, and then went in to edit. Subtraction is a powerful tool, to say more with less. But oddly, there wasn’t a ton to do this time. I’ve spent years re-working pieces that still aren’t right. Lucky for me, this wasn’t one of them. I think because I just let go of knowing what was going to happen and let myself have fun, it clicked. I’m trying to do that more in my work, give myself permission to be as strange as I want and see what comes out. The meaning seems to come though if I let go, trusting myself to get there.