Lines of Communication
Please click here to read Miriam’s amazing piece “Lines of Communication.” Miriam’s piece uses rebus puzzles, which we felt we could better represent by sharing this link as WordPress doesn’t do justice to the very cool visuals in this piece.
My biggest hope in reading for the inaugural Variant Literature Pizza Prize was to find work that’s fun. Miriam Gershow’s story, “Lines of Communication,” which shines in its innovative humor, knocked it out of the park. In talking with Gershow, I was excited to learn there’s a whole series of stories in this vein. “Lines of Communication” feels like being welcomed to a boisterous pizza party. There are games to play and lovely prose to consume. Gershow’s writing is certain to have you coming back for another slice.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Aram Mrjoian: Your winning story uses visual elements, specifically rebus puzzles, which is one of the things I loved about it, particularly because they were clever and funny. It felt like you understood the assignment of the Pizza Prize. What was the inspiration for this story and how did you go about putting it together?
Miriam Gershow: “Lines of Communication” is part of a recent series I’ve deemed the get the fuck over myself stories, where I’m trying to break loose of my self-serious literary fiction mode and find playfulness and joy, mostly in flash. I’d written a throwaway line about rebus puzzles in another flash—it’s since been deleted—and the idea stuck in my creative maw the way some do. The opening line of Lines of Communication delighted me, so I kept going, and then making the puzzles became its own tandem process to writing the story. Several of my early rebus ideas had to change between drafts because I couldn’t pull off the puzzles. I wrote this line for Carla—“She had wanted to tell him ‘Ewe r knot careful’ but she couldn’t come up with a rebus for careful”—because it was true for me.
AM: One of the other things I really enjoyed about “Lines of Communication” is that it’s a fresh take on the bad marriage. How do you go about making well-covered material fun and new? Were you thinking about that when writing this?
MG: I think an idea like “This is well-covered material” would scare me out of writing a story to begin with. I’m not that brave. Or rather, I’m more impulsive than brave. I tend to follow a compelling idea or a compelling character – or in an ideal world, both! – and see where it takes me. I didn’t set out to write a bad marriage story. I set out to figure out what Carla was doing and why. Edgar and their marriage crystallized around that.
AM: Outside of this story, do you design or do many puzzles? Crosswords? Sudoku? Wordle?
MG: I don’t design puzzles, though this story gave me an appreciation for people who do! I was all about Wordle when all of Twitter was all about Wordle. Then I forgot about it. Now my 12-year-old will remind me to play and then inevitably get the word in fewer guesses than I do.
AM: I’ve also been thinking a lot about creative sustainability lately, and since you teach at the University of Oregon, I’m curious what advice you give your students for staying excited about their work? What do you tell writers just getting started?
MG: In my experience, what early writers have in spades is excitement. They’re not yet jaded about the business of writing and they are starry-eyed at the prospects of a writing life. If anything, I try to glean the excitement off them, so it can soften my older, scuffed-up writer heart. Mostly I encourage them to figure out what it is they want to say, and also to know their strengths, so they can work within and around those strengths to develop the parts of their writing that need bolstering.
AM: I am a known pizza guy, but, be honest with me, if this story could have won you any food in the world, what would it be?
MG: I’ve recently entered the horrifying world of the lactose intolerant. So my dream prize would be a heaping serving of non-dairy ice cream that is identical in taste and richness and satisfaction to dairy ice cream. I’d also accept pudding or banana cream pie that met those same criteria.
AM: Do you fold your slices?
MG: Never! That’s nearly as bad as a knife and fork.
AM: Cold pizza for breakfast. Yes or no?
MG: Absolutely. With pineapple on top.
AM: I know this is the standard question, but to conclude, what are you working on right now?
MG: I’m still in my get the fuck over myself period, which involves a lot of jumping around. I’m working on some new flash and revising older flash. I have a bonkers short story idea that I’m slowly wrangling. I’ve broken open a novel I thought was done but turns out to be almost done. I’m letting a different novel sit and percolate before I go back to a second draft.
On nominating another writer:
I was recently in an online flash fiction workshop where Cherry Lou Sy recited a fully realized piece of flash that she had written in the minutes. It spanned a cast of characters—a family gathered at a wake—and broke out of space and time in the most gorgeous and unexpected ways. Both her creative vision and her language wowed me. My ears are perked for whatever she has coming down the pike.
Check out Cherry’s work in JMWW or find her on Twitter @cherrylousy.
Miriam Gershow is a novelist (THE LOCAL NEWS) and story writer. Her stories appear in The Georgia Review, Gulf Coast, and Quarterly West among others. Recent flash appears in District Lit and And If That Mockingbird Don’t Sing and can be found hanging in the stairwell of a downtown parking lot in Eugene OR, where she lives.
© Variant Literature Inc 2021