Amber Sparks on Myths, Flash Fiction, and Her Unromantic Writing Process ‹ Literary Hub

Microphone is a podcast for short but powerful writing. Each week features a few short pieces of fiction, creative non-fiction, and/or poetry read by the author. In the accompanying interview series, 5 Qs with Kirsten, Kirsten Reneau chats with a featured reader.

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There is a specific type of American folk hero that we learn about in school. Most of us don’t get an education at Bigfoot or Mothman. Instead, we’re given stories where the moral is usually one of hard work and man power: John Henry, Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan.

In Amber Spark’s play “The Monstrous Sadness of Mythical Creatures”, Sparks dares to ask what happens after the myth is over. What does Paul Bunyan do after Babe’s death? Where is he going? And most importantly, how does he feel? The effect is one that brings the legendary closer to a sadder, but truer story.

Listen to Amber Sparks read “The Monstrous Sadness of Mythical Creatures” on Micro.
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KR: This piece begins with an almost funny and silly beginning – the woodcutters wanting to skate on the frying pan. How did you decide to start this anecdote?

AS: I’ve always loved the ridiculousness of this particular story – it’s so over the top! I wanted to write the vastness of the tales, and that seemed like a good starting point.

KR: I saw in your author’s note that you were inspired by the Paul Bunyonland theme park. It takes a while – at least until the mention of Babe – to realize that Paul Bunyon is the main character here. Can you elaborate on your decision to use this mythological figure directly in the story, rather than inventing something new or inspired by legend?

AS: I really knew I wanted to write this story about Paul Bunyan in particular. I was really interested in the pathos of the story – what happens when a hero gets old? What happens when a country goes beyond its tall tales? It’s so sad, and so moving for me especially since the main character is just ridiculous. The fact that the theme park is dead got me thinking about what it would be like to see this theme park personified.

KR: What was your favorite myth or legend growing up?

AS: I loved Greek myths so much. Ulysses has always been my favorite myth, ever since I read my D’Aulaires as a child; I still read it a few times a year. I just read it to my seven year old daughter for the first time and got her hooked too.

KR: The end of this piece is really lovely and returns to the tile. With such a short piece, obviously every part counts, but especially the end. Can you tell us about the creation of this finishing note?

AS: I was going for that sense of irrelevance – the idea that ultimately Bunyan is okay with that. Because he’s tired, and he just wants to step aside, and look at something beautiful while he’s doing it. It’s death for everyone, really – human or hero.

KR: Can you talk a bit about your writing process in general, where you find inspiration, and tell us about the submission process for this piece?

AS: I write in spurts, where and when I can – it’s a very unromantic process, unfortunately! I write a lot on the Notes app on my phone. I find inspiration everywhere, in what I read, what I watch, the conversations I hear, the characters and stories I love. That’s where this one comes from.

I honestly don’t remember the submission process for this story, but I think Matchbox This might be the first magazine I sent it to because I loved what they were doing with the flash plus a note – I wanted that extra chance to explain the genesis of the story. I was so happy when they accepted it. It was a nice boost for the legendary kind of shorthand writing I wanted to do.

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Microphone is edited and curated by Dylan Evers and produced and hosted by Drew Hawkins. The theme song is by Matt Ordes. Follow the show on Twitter at @podcastmicro.

Amber Sparkles is the author of four collections of short fiction films, including And I don’t forgive you: revenge and other stories and The unfinished worldand his fiction and essays have appeared in American short fiction, The Paris Review, Tin House, Granta, The Cut and elsewhere. She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband, daughter and two cats.

Kirsten Reneau is a writer, teacher and interviewer. She got her MFA from the University of New Orleans in 2021 and now lives there with her dog. Her personal work can be found online at http://www.kirstenreneau.com.

Scott R. Banks