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A Conversation With PEN America Best Debut Short Stories 2019 Author Erin Singer
“Inspiration came from the stupid pencil jar our family had when I was growing up.”
We are Tockers, descendants of thirty-six feet of long lean Saskatchewan woman: six Tocker sisters, six foot tall, exemplary ax-women all, so says our mom. At the kitchen table this morning we are mixing our Nesquik and Mom is quoting from Taking Our Time: A History of Tockers. As she cites each Tocker triumph she stabs the book with her file, showering its curling cover with fingernail dust. Tocker Trucking! Compass Sawmill! TT’s Laundromat! Stab! Stab! Stab! Mom plants the file in an old baby corn can crammed with white pencil crayons and shards of rulers and dried-out pens. She rubs her eyes until mascara moons arise underneath. Our spoons clack inside our plastic cups.
What was I saying? She sighs. Point being, summer’s coming and no Tocker ever chopped a tree indoors. Get outside and play! Tocker girls brown up good. Just godsakes don’t get a farmer tan.
That right there’s offensive to farmers, Dad says behind his cigarette smoke.
I’m going down for a nap, says Mom. She puts her Kool-Aid glass in the sink.
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“When you’re a kid you’re not sure if you don’t know something because you haven’t been taught it or because you’re not supposed to know.”
“I think, in pursuit of truth, science and religion still have to wrestle with the strictures of human knowledge, error, pride.”
“The narration style feels very conversational to me. I liked how second-person really tries to make the reader part of the story as well.”
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“When writing this story, I was thinking explicitly about a tendency in players to play games as murderous kleptomaniacs.”
“I started thinking about immoral women, women who are not merely complicit counterparts to A Bad Man but active participants in cruelty.”
“When you feel like you have no power in a relationship, withholding becomes one of the only ways you can maintain the illusion of agency.”