Monday, September 5, 2022

Q&A with Aimee Parkison




Aimee Parkison is the author of the new story collection Suburban Death Project. Her other books include Refrigerated Music for a Gleaming Woman. She is a professor at Oklahoma State University.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in Suburban Death Project?


A: The stories were written at different times over different years, but they came together in their subject matter and theme: bodily transformation and stories of suburbia.


For my process, putting a short story collection together is much like curating. I write stories to stand alone, and eventually I put them together to make a collection for a book.


The earliest story in the collection is the first, which took several years to write and revise. The later stories in the book are newer, from the last year or so.


Q: Can you say more about how you decided on the order in which the stories would appear in the collection?


A: I like to lay the stories out to see what patterns and themes emerge, to test how they provide context or even contrast to each other. I also tend to take advice from my editor if there is any question of ordering or reordering after the book has been placed under contract. So, the ordering was collaborative in this collection.


Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: Titles are often difficult for me. This book was originally titled something very different. When it was first placed under contract, it was called The Ambassador Owl, which is also the title of one of the stories.


Even though my editor loved that title, we had some conversations about whether or not it really fit the overall theme of the collection and decided that Suburban Death Project was more closely aligned with the book’s subject matter and theme.


Most of the stories are set in the “in-between” of suburbia (not small down or big city) average US neighborhoods, where people are engaged in secret lives, hidden safely behind privacy fences concealing family dramas, dangerous relationships, and frightening loves.

Since there is an Urban Death Project (The Urban Death Project: Bringing Death Back Into the Urban Realm - Metropolis (, I thought there should be a Suburban Death Project.


All death projects, ultimately, are about transformation, which is the heart of any story.


Q: The author Sarah Blackman said of the book, “In Parkison's superb new collection, women escape their childhoods by succumbing to their magic, or mourn their husbands by tasting the fruit that grows from their bodies, or claim their destiny by abandoning it to the world.” What do you think of that description?


A: That description is wonderful, and Sarah Blackman is an insightful, sensitive, intelligent reader, writer, and critic.


Her description alludes to the idea that the stories in the book range from slipstream to realism to surrealism, from gothic to satire, from feminist to fractured fantasy, and are inhabited by an amputee who fishes for owls, a woman who can’t stop laughing after her husband’s suicide, and the legend of a runaway girl who lives in a lighthouse and haunts the tunnels of a seaside cave.


There are also insect actors, the DNA of extinct animals preserved in tattoos, a dildo in lapis lazuli, and women who begin to view the horrors of suburban life with a passionate wonder burning so brightly it outshines age, death, and family secrets.


In average American households, families haunt each other while still alive as they recompose into dragonflies, peach trees, squirrels, ducks, owls, shadows, tunnels, and zoos of endangered species. 


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m working on a new collection of short fiction called Lethal Conversations, under contract with Unbound Edition for 2024 and supported by a Humanities, Arts, and Design (HAD) Grant from Oklahoma State University, where I teach in the BA, MFA, and PhD Creative Writing Program.


Lethal Conversations is a collection of nonlinear fictions about violence against women. Women’s trauma weaves through difficult but necessary conversations about what remains unspoken after violence.


Giving voice to the voiceless, this collection examines what can’t be said, what is dangerous to say, what is necessary to say, while asking why some people remain silent and what silence means in the face of survival.


Lethal Conversations is an artistic experiment in writing about violence. My artistic theory is that avoiding actual representations of violence will make the realities of violence against women more disturbing to the reader by showing the victims’ perspective in the aftermath of attack.


Where not telling a story is telling a story, where not saying is saying, Lethal Conversations is about what isn’t said and what people say by not saying. Ultimately, this book of fiction is about how stories can teach us how to survive by decoding silence and breaking through the unspoken by giving voice to the voiceless.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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