Fiction Editor Carol Reid has discovered some jewels to showcase this month. Our featured writer is Kristen Clanton, who also kindly agreed to an interview with Carol. Carol says of Kristen’s work: “Kristen Clanton excavates the layers of a child’s grief and the chambers of his heart in her featured story ‘A Vivid and Dazzling Thing.’.”
Since his father died, Henry had grown convinced that his heart was a kitten and not really a heart at all. On mornings when his mother made hot chocolate for breakfast, Henry explained that his heart was allergic to chocolate and it and he wanted hot honey instead, which his mother couldn’t seem to believe. In her yellow apron, which was the identical shade of her hair and the kitchen’s pointille wallpaper, she explained that Henry’s heart was shaped like the apples of his cheeks, and an arrow pointed down to his tummy.
However, Henry could not be swayed. During bath time, he would not let up, absolutely convinced that his heart had all but disappeared. When his mother turned the spigot, the heart hid in Henry’s throat. And when bubbles filled the tub, the kitten attempted to escape from Henry’s mouth. Henry pleaded that he couldn’t bathe because his heart would leave, but his mother wouldn’t listen, so Henry cried and choked on the kitten in his throat.
Sometimes, he begged his mother to tape his mouth, but she said, “The tape won’t stick in the water,” and Henry pressed his hands to his lips. He tried to daydream about better things, like drawing his kitten in trees.
Most times, Henry was an oak, and the kitten slept in a nest, which was Bluebird built and abandoned in the crook of his limbs. Henry never put birds in his tree, only nests, and this was mostly because the kitten would chase them, and partially because he was slightly fearful of beaks.
“Why is your kitten always grey?” Henry’s mother would ask, holding his crayon drawings in one hand and a dust rag in the other.
“He doesn’t get much sun,” most days, Henry would say, though, “His name is Ghost,” Henry said the morning his kitten left.
That morning, Henry sipped hot honey with a spoon, and drew himself as the moon with the kitten asleep in a crater. Through the lace curtains, the light of the rising sun brightened the wallpaper, turning each dot into a glowing orb, beckoning Henry outside and into the snow, which was technicolor in the sun’s path.
Outside, Henry whispered to his kitten, describing the beauty of the sun through the trees, the icicles on their branches, and the sounds of all these things. But Henry’s heart stopped purring and became very cold among the trees. When Henry felt the kitten crawl into his throat, he decided to find his orange bicycle, which was hidden behind his father’s Chevy, in the back of the garage.
Henry pedaled that orange tricycle; he pedaled as fast as he could. He made the wind and that whooshing sound in the trees. He built a storm from the pedaling, hoping the kitten would fall back down into his chest. But Henry’s heart could not be forced to do what it could not do. Henry pedaled fury, thinking his kitten was just cold. Henry pedaled circles around the driveway, his eyes on the kitchen windows.
Henry knew that if he looked close enough, he would see his father at the table, while his mother made apple strudel and tea. The yellow of her hair, her apron, and the walls made the kitchen a vivid and dazzling thing.
Henry believed the kitchen was brighter than the sun itself, bright than his orange bicycle. Henry was so distracted by these scenes, he hit an oak tree. The force of the crash sent Henry’s heart tumbling out of his mouth. Henry saw his kitten, finally happy in all that bright light, but being grey, and being named Ghost, his heart faded from sight, instantaneously.
Carol Reid, Fiction Editor: Interview with Kristen Clanton
Carol Reid: What drew you to write about a child’s grief, and in such an illuminating way?
Kristen Clanton: The story started with the idea of how children have such a difficult time communicating the true tragedies of childhood, and how those tragedies are often misinterpreted by adults. Second to that, I am obsessed with the necessity of remembering how the world felt when I was young, and how isolating that feeling can be.
I think you’re primarily a poet, right? What kind of shift, if any, happens in a poet’s creative process when material seems to want to be prose?
I am primarily a poet, though lately I have mostly been focused on prose writing. Usually, for me, there is not such a dramatic shift in consciousness between poetry and prose; however, “A Vivid and Dazzling Thing” was different. I started writing this story in Omaha, Nebraska five years ago, and I kind of loved Henry too much. I was too sentimental, and I knew it. I spent two years thinking about this story; I spent another year turning it into a novel, and then another year breaking it all back down again. It’s the most time I’ve ever spent on a single piece, but I learned more about writing from Dazzling Thing than anything else I’ve worked on.
In your bio you mention having had a wild time MFA-ing! If you were designing an MFA program, what would be your top three priorities?
Liberty, community and progress. My MFA at the University of Nebraska changed the way I think about every single thing in the world because of the people involved and the ideas and passion they had for communication and connection. There was no dividing line, no elitism, no ivory towers or exclusion. I can’t say enough good things about that moment in my life; even now, it kinda feels like I am chasing the dragon, searching for that electricity again.
What have you read/heard/seen in the past year that revved your writing engine?
Right now, I am constantly reading The Atlantic and watching Charlie Rose interviews. I’m poring over Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver and how their narrators refuse to pass judgment on their characters. I’m watching old Samurai movies, like Lone Wolf and Cub, and listening to Bowie and Siouxsie and the Banshees. I’m not cutting edge; I’m the person that reads and watches and listens to things on repeat. I believe I run into things at just the right time, and I read everything. Like I just read a biography about Alice de Janze, and she is very cool.
[Editor’s note:sent me googling Alice de Janze- http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1268376/The-White-Mischief-Murderess-70-year-long-mystery-murder-debauched-Happy-Valley-set-finally-solved.html]
The inevitable “what’s next “question- poetry or prose?
Prose. It’s where I’m at right now. I like the clarity and musicality that prose can achieve. Tobias Wolff says that the short story is the only form of literature that can wholly achieve perfection, and I kind of want to experiment with that right now.
Very pleased to know you, Kristen and thanks for sending this melancholy beauty to MadHat Lit.
Great to know you too, Carol. I am very happy that “A Vivid and Dazzling Thing” found a home with MadHat Lit. I couldn’t think of a journal more suited for it.
Kristen Clanton teaches English and writing at a college in Tampa, Florida, and she also works as a seamstress and welder’s apprentice. She received her MFA from the University of Nebraska in poetry and had a wild time doing it. Her work has most recently been published by the Bicycle Review, Midnight Circus, Burlesque Press and Sugar House Review.