Reality Check What's the meaning of real life in 2015? Baltimore-based fiction writer Kathy Flann lets us have it-in formidable short story form.



Goucher professor Kathy Flann’s second collection of stories, “Get a Grip”—released last month through Texas Review Press—recalls the hilariously hyperbolic energy of an early T.C. Boyle meets Lorrie Moore’s angst-ridden, comically absurd population. But Flann’s own lilting, funny/angry/astute music finally makes such comparisons simplistic. I should say that I know Flann well. She’s a friend—also she’s in my monthly writing circle—and I’m both impressed and inspired by the way she respects and honors her struggling, real-life characters in this book, and always. We discussed my experience with the new collection.

Which three stories are closest to your heart and why?

I think the easiest to choose are the two second-person stories—the title story and “Neuropathy.” Both characters are desperate, I think, which is when (to me, anyway) second person works best. It’s a point of view reminiscent of the voices in our heads when we make mistakes.

“Heaven’s Door,” about the meteorite hunter, stands out—it’s the final story in the collection. I put it there because it’s about a race against the clock, time running out. Meteorites lose value the longer they stay on the ground, undiscovered, being tainted by Earth every moment. So the hunter has to find it as quickly as possible. I liked all of the ways this pursuit seemed like it could be a metaphor for more existential things.

In “Get a Grip,” Lisa manages her dad’s business, Big Pat’s Granite Ranch of Statuary. Got to ask: Have you ever come across a piece of Jimmy Carter statuary?

I had a great time researching the inventory for the statuary and became kind of obsessed with finding weird lawn statues. But I’m pretty sure I made up the Jimmy Carter. I just wanted that to be true so badly. Thankfully, something that is true is that there’s a “Bashful Yeti”—I found it in the (sadly defunct) Skymall catalog. I waxed on about it at such length that one of my friends bought it for me.

How did you make the painful eponymous condition belonging to your narrator in “Neuropathy” so convincing?

It comes in handy that my husband is a doctor. I had the idea for her condition when I was writing the early drafts, but had no sense of whether something like that would really happen. My husband said, “Sure, it could. It’s called neuropathy.” Once I had a name for it, I could research it on the Internet, which was problematic because, as we all know, a person contracts whatever she researches on the Internet. So every time my foot would fall asleep or what have you, I thought I had it. “You don’t have neuropathy,” he’d say with a sigh.

This narrator is addicted to home shopping. What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen for sale on TV? How much QVC did you watch in preparation?

This was another thing that was an obsession for a while—researching the items she would be seeing. Not everything could make it in there, sadly. For example, I love products with ridiculously long names, such as the Genie Hour Glass Waist Training Belt (Nude). But things like this slowed the pace of the list.

I’m impressed by the way you share such a vast look at the Meteorite Man’s life. How is it that you can write a male character so fully so well?

People often remark how convincingly male my male characters are. It’s funny because I don’t really think about it. I have so many “male” qualities myself, ones people see that way. I drive a stick shift, my favorite movie is “Star Wars,” I love sports… It never occurred to me that writing from a male perspective should be daunting until after I’d done it and people said, “What made you think you could do that?”

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