Featured Author: Lucas Church
Lucas Church is an editor at UNC Press, focusing on acquiring works on southern art and culture, medicine and creative non-fiction. He received a B.A. in English from Appalachian State University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from North Carolina State University. Three of his pieces have been selected by Arts Everywhere for publication: “Once We Firmed Up,” “Like that thing only different,” and “Methods of Escape.”
A.E: What were the inspirations for “Once We Firmed Up,” “Like that thing only different,” and “Methods of Escape”?
L.C: When I sat down to write “Methods of Escape,” I had just read a book by Jenny Offill called Dept. of Speculation. She got her B.A. from UNC. Her newest book just came out, called Weather. Anyway, Dept. of Speculation really inspired me, so “Methods of Escape” is my Jenny Offill rip-off narrative.
For “Once We Firmed Up,” I was inspired by Gary Lutz’s Stories in the Worst Way. Lutz’s style is unique. I just love the way he writes things and the way he writes stories that seem to go places, but you’re never sure who the characters are or where the plot is going. He just gives you the guts, the feelings that the best short stories capture. Jen George’s The Babysitter at Rest also provided some inspiration, as it dealt with a lot of weird sexual stuff, as well as death and religion.
I wrote “Like that thing only different” about ten years ago. I’m really bad at writing flash fiction; that is to say, the flash fiction thing is really a challenge for me. That story was from early on, when I was trying to be a “serious writer,” trying to write something short. Everything else was kind of a traditional story, but this story was my “sketchiest/barebones” scenario in which some guy who really shouldn’t get a baby just gets a baby. That was one of my earlier stories.
A.E: What do you want your readers to take away from your stories?
L.C: That’s a good question because, sometimes, I don’t know. I don’t know that writers really write to have that effect, like “I want readers to feel this.” I will say that what I’m drawn to is when I feel a gut punch and when I feel haunted afterward, so that’s what I try for. I want readers to remember it and have the story pop into their heads randomly; I want the stories to haunt them.
A.E: What are some of your favorite books, and who are some of your favorite authors?
L.C: I really liked Stephen King as a kid, but now that I’m an adult, a book that has really stuck with me is Babysitter at Rest. It’s a collection that pushes what a short story can be. I also like this weird, little book by Jerzy Kosinski, called Steps. It’s a first-person collection of vignettes, and it’s amoral and weird. It speaks to me in a strange way; I don’t really know why. I also like the classics, like Flannery O’Connor; she taught me how cruel authors can be in their work. Barry Hannah’s Airships is really good, and the last book I read by Joy Williams, Ninety-Nine Stories of God, really stuck with me.
A.E: Where did you first hear the story of the mellified man?
L.C: I was online, reading about macabre things, and I just stumbled across it. That’s how I spend my time when I can’t sleep.
A.E: Are there any authors you believe have particularly influenced your writing style?
L.C: I get a lot of inspiration from comics, comic artists like Chris Ware. He’s incredibly intricate and deeply depressing. His most recent work is Rusty Brown. I might find something in a piece of art or comics or music to incorporate into my stories. I wish I could be funnier in my stories. Someone like Lisa Hanawalt, the producer of Bojack Horseman—she’s really funny, and her work is really smart. She’s not afraid to dive into the grossness that is the human body.
A.E: You chose to write “Once We Firmed Up” from the perspective of two sisters. Do you have sisters or siblings of your own, and, if so, does your relationship with them resemble the relationship in the story?
L.C: I do have a sibling, a sister, but thankfully, we are not in the situation those two are in. I like the idea of siblings or people who are so close they can’t exist without the other person. I think that’s a really interesting and fragile idea. It’s more vulnerable seeing these two people speak as one because they’ve shut themselves off from everything except each other.
A.E: What is the significance of the story about the South American dog in “Like that thing only different”?
L.C: I kind of got the story about the South American dog from Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. They made a movie out of it, last year, but I grew up with the stories. Alvin Shwartz collected these folktales and legends and paired them with terrifying illustrations. There’s one story about a woman who gets a dog in Mexico, and it turns out that the dog is a rat. I wanted that to run parallel with the idea that a person could be trusted with something out of the blue, and it could actually work out, so “Like that thing only different” kind of subverts that old legend. I hadn’t originally planned to put that tale in the story.
There’s this short story writer, Claire Keegan; she has a short story collection called Walk the Blue Fields; there’s a story in there about a family at a farmhouse, but they’re put in a situation where they can’t really leave. The wife in the family starts telling a story to the people who have come over for a party, and in this story, she lets her husband know that she knows about his infidelity. I love having people tell stories in the stories I write. I’m always trying to write the stories Claire Keegan writes. I always like using a story to connect to a larger thing, even if it’s not an obvious connection.