BackStory: Five Questions with Charmaine Wilkerson
Author of Balm
What inspired you to write ‘Balm’?
I’ve been working on a novel about a woman with a hidden past and I find that the characters from this longer work have been taking on new life in flash pieces. The funny thing is, they aren’t necessarily scenes from the longer story. The characters have been experiencing new moments of their own through flash fiction.
Who are your favourite historical fiction writers (flash or otherwise) and why?
I’m thinking of authors whom I did not originally perceive as historical fiction writers but who, I later realized, had a strong influence on my concept of how one can tell stories from the past. Toni Morrison, Amy Tan, Alice Munro and Joseph Heller are examples of these. More recently, Jesmyn Ward, Anthony Doerr, George Saunders, Markus Zusak and Colson Whitehead have done some interesting things with novels that drop you right into the middle of a scene and offer up fractured glances of things in the way that flash fiction often does.
If you could live for one year in any historical period, when and where would it be, and why?
I would love to see certain natural environments before development or tourism or climate change had had too much of an impact on them. The canyons of America, the ice caps of the north, the sparkling harbours of the Caribbean.
What, if anything, do you have in common with your main character?
The story steals ideas from my own family’s cultural underpinnings. A history in the Caribbean, a present in America, a strong sense of untold stories, and the emotional weight which a seemingly mundane object can hold for one generation, but not for the next.
What do you like most about writing flash (or prose poetry, or hybrid work)?
Flash fiction often mimics the roles that memories, dreams and secrets play in our everyday lives. An image, a sound, an object, sends us back in time, or into another dimension of our lives, and then it pulls us back to the present. We live entire stories in our heads but say only a word or two of it to others. But the story is there and a well-crafted piece of flash fiction can make an intimate connection with the reader with just a few words.
Charmaine Wilkerson was born in New York, has lived in the Caribbean and does most of her writing in Rome. Her story “How to Make a Window Snake” won the 2017 Bath Novella-in-Flash Award and the 2018 Saboteur Award for Best Novella. Other stories and essays can be found in various magazines and anthologies. She tweets at @charmspen1.
Image courtesy of the author.