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Bats or Swallows – Interview with Teri Vlassopoulos

Teri agreed to answer some questions about her work – Looking forward to that forthcoming novel, Teri!

FFF: I mention in my review that the words in the title of Bats or Swallows can be taken as verbs or nouns. I was being a little facetious, but the intent of the title is clear — we must be certain of what we’ve just seen flying past our windows in the early morning light. I think that’s what I like best about the book. Everyone is searching, not just for answers, but the right answers. Did you plan to write to this theme, or did it just become more obvious as you wrote?

The stories in Bats or Swallows were written over a period of about 5 years, and include some of my first “serious” attempts at short story writing. I didn’t have a book in mind when I first started writing, and I definitely wasn’t thinking about theme. It was only after a few years that I realized that I had a series of stories that worked as a collection. Like most writers I write about things I’m interested in. It felt like a happy coincidence when I realized that I’d been interested in the same thing for awhile. Incidentally, it never occurred to me that Bats or Swallows could be construed as verbs until a friend of mine pointed it out last year – I had the image of the birds planted firmly in my mind. I could pretend I was clever enough to have come up with the double entendre myself, but I didn’t. Another happy coincidence!

FFF: The characters in Bats or Swallows have really stayed with me. I mentioned in my review that My Son, the Magician is my favourite story, but I think my favourite character is probably April, the teenager that works at the storage facility in Art History.  The characters in your stories are so complete, so well-drawn that we can easily imagine their lives before and after the small piece you allow us to see.

Which characters do you most feel an affinity for? Why?

Thank you, Kim! I tend to feel (maybe overly) sympathetic towards my teen girl characters, like April in Art History or the main character in What Counts. From my authorial god-like stance I want to reassure them that everything will be okay in the end, but they’re not real and it would be kind of weird if I whispered that to my laptop. Zoe from Swimming Lessons is probably the character I loved the most. Actually, I liked her so much that she’s one of the main characters in the novel I’m working on now.

FFF: Were there any characters that you disliked?

There are characters that might do things I don’t agree with, but, because I wrote them, I understand the motivation for their actions or feelings. It’s hard to dislike someone – real or imagined – when you have a deeper understanding of where they’re coming from. It’s annoying, almost. Life would be so much easier if we weren’t all so multifaceted!

FFF: Each story seems to have a symbol or a sign that could be said to be representative of the character or a plot point — roadkill, church signs, an earthquake. An international border. An extra pink line on a pregnancy test.  Tell me, in general, of the significance of symbols and signs in this book.

I’ve always been interested in the tendency people have (or fine, that I have) to look for signs when trying to discern certain life events, especially when these people (okay, me) know that ultimately these kinds of signs don’t have any logical bearing on real life. I’m also interested in how, in the absence of religion, people try to assign meaning to their lives. Like, why pay attention to your horoscope but not the Book of Revelations? Why go to a psychic instead of a priest?  So, I’ve assigned this characteristic to many of the characters in my book, and they do it both consciously and unconsciously.

FFF: When you write, what comes first, the idea for the plot, or the character?

What I like about short stories is that they can be written around a hook, whether it’s a particularly vivid character’s voice or an almost too clever plot twist. Usually I have a certain image or tone or idea, and the story will blossom from that.

FFF: You have worked on ‘zines in the past. How has publishing this collection of short stories differed from your past experiences in the industry? How was working on these stories similar to putting together a ‘zine?

I made zines primarily in my teens and early twenties before I thought seriously about fiction writing and before I even considered publishing a book. For me making a zine is such a vastly different experience from publishing a book that they don’t really compare. Zines are, for me, much more head/heart to paper, not much in between. They’re personal – I rarely include fiction in my zines, I have no editor, I don’t think much about promo. They sometimes have spelling or grammar mistakes, or maybe a sentence gets chopped off accidentally when it goes through the photocopier, and it’s maddening, but you live with it. I like being able to be looser with my writing in zines, but these days I prefer the rigour associated with writing fiction, getting edited, and, you know, not having missing sentences. I still occasionally make zines, though.

FFF: What are you working on now?

Who isn’t working on a novel these days? As I mentioned above, Zoe from Swimming Lessons is one of the main characters. The book is about small families, marriage, the Greek shipping industry and road trips. Kind of. I’m still figuring it out, and I feel a little superstitious talking about it out loud, but it’s well on its way. I also blog at http://bibliographic.net.

Thanks, Teri!

And thank you, Kim!

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One response »

  1. bettyjanehegerat

    Teri, I smiled at “they’re not real.” Sometimes the characters I write feel more real to me than the real people. Perhaps because I think I know them as well as I know myself. And when they surprise me, I’m reminded that there’s always the possibility that I can surprise myself too. So much fun — and isn’t that why we write?
    Looking forward to reading Bats and Swallows.
    BettyJ

    Reply

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