A Q&A with Corinna Vallianatos

Our forthcoming 2018 issue of the Idaho Review will feature “Cuba,” a short story by Corinna Vallianatos. Her story collection, My Escapee, won the 2011 AWP Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction, selected by Jhumpa Lahiri, and was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2015. Her stories have appeared in Tin House, A Public Space, McSweeney's, Epoch, The Gettysburg Review, The Cincinnati Review, and elsewhere.

Our staff member Ariel Delgado Dixon—who discovered “Cuba” in our submissions pile and championed it to acceptance—chatted with Corinna over email about “Cuba.”

Dixon: Can you tell us about your first spark of inspiration for the story?

Vallianatos: A writer friend of mine occasionally gets winsome little tokens in the mail from women who've read him, and thinking about that brought me the wife's character, who would never do such a thing.

Dixon: This is a shorter than average short story I'd say, but it feels like a lot happens over the course of not too many pages. Can you speak to the pacing and narrative efficiency you use here and what went into that process?

Vallianatos: This story just kept moving forward, and since its world isn't ploddingly developed (the characters, the situations are quick), it was easy to leap around in it, change its parameters, its POV. I'm not sure why it was short other than that's how I knew the characters, as glancing figures. Sometimes you can know too much, and then the story gets weighted down. I was very conscious of not wanting that to happen.

Dixon: This may piggyback off my last question, but I thought it might be useful to touch on your revision process. As readers, we only see the final, polished piece, but I'm curious about what "Cuba" looked like in its drafting stages and over the course of its editing and revision.

Vallianatos: Most of the revising I did was trying to figure out the ending. Endings don't come naturally to me, because I don't feel the need for much resolution in fiction. I'm drawn to stories that sort of rove away from their origins, surprise, don't explain.

Dixon: Let's talk about the ending. Things take a pretty surreal turn in the story's final thrusts. Did you always know the story was headed in that direction, or was it something you discovered along the way? From a craft perspective—how did you transition between and balance the story's early realism with its almost otherworldly conclusion? 

Vallianatos: The surreal turn was something I landed on along the way. But I thought of the story less in terms of realism and surrealism than in terms of the wife's character having everything taken from her, and then returned to her in a very different state. I still wonder about it, a little, which I think is okay. Better to have something to wonder about than not.

Dixon: Whose work are you reading these days that excites you, and why? 

Vallianatos: Right now I'm reading Flights by Olga Tokarczuk. It's a book of fragmented narratives that are loosely connected around the idea of travel and bodies in motion. One narrative will stop only to be picked up many pages later; others go on for the length of a long story; others are a paragraph. That's what's so exciting about the book—the way it rejects the notion that there has to be this big, barreling storyline that pushes forward inexorably from beginning to end. Also, it's written frankly, intelligently, wryly. 

Dixon: What's next for you and your writing? 

Vallianatos: I've just finished a novel that's set in Southern CA, but I'm not sure if it's finished finished. I can keep tinkering on something almost indefinitely . . . so someone may need to save it from me, wrest it out of my hands.

Idaho Review