Danielle Lazarin, "A Clean Break"
It’s December 12. Danielle Lazarin, author of Back Talk, picks up a fresh dozen on her way home.
How would you describe your story?
DANIELLE LAZARIN: The most Jewish story ever written for an advent calendar? A meditation on the legacy of grief, the boundaries of loyalty, and what it means to break with tradition. Plus disappointing bagels.
When did you write it, and how did the writing process compare to your other work?
DL: A large chunk of it, about the granddaughter and grandfather baking together, was one of many unused fragments I wrote some years ago for a story called “Appetite.” Like many writers, I have a file for these things that I hope to repurpose; mine is called “orphans.” When H&O asked me to participate in this project, I returned to this fragment to see if it had legs, if I could build new characters out of the scene. This is very much in line with how I build stories, letting fragments collect together till I can see how to thread them together. But I don’t usually think that much about structure at a story’s start, and most of my work is structurally pretty traditional, so this story is a departure for me. I was resistant to the idea of using footnotes at first, but realized I needed a story to be running underneath the primary story, and for it to be out of the primary point of view. I wanted what I deemed “the understory” to encompass not so much the secrets but the private moments in this family, where by necessity or love, they keep some stories to themselves. I really enjoyed working more deliberately with structure, considering how a reader would interact with the footnotes and the multiple layers of story here.
What kind of research went into this story?
DL: I researched the bagel baking unions a bit. Though my family history is entangled with both Holocaust survivors and labor unions, Itzak’s particular path is invented, but of course informed by what I’ve gleaned from that history.
What, to you, makes the short story a special form? What can it do that other kinds of writing can't?
DL: I like efficiency, and I like puzzles, and as a writer, stories are where my brain can work at the intersection of these two things. I love the challenge of articulating a complete world in a small space, and the emotional intensity that space can contain. The best short stories are bright with feelings and beauty, nearly too hot to hold. I often feel sucker punched when I put them down. I love, too, as a reader, to see where writers zero in on a small moment in a character’s life and show us how it’s remarkable, that attention to the potency of the mundane.
Where should people go to learn more about you and your work?
What's the best gift you've ever been given?
DL: A few years ago, in the scheme of a future project, I became obsessed with these antique goat hammers. There was a flour or laundry company that used to give them out as free-with-purchase prizes. I shared this fascination with my two best writing buddies, who some months later managed to find one on the internet and sent it to me for my birthday. I haven’t started that project in earnest yet, but I am definitely going to try and work the hammer in. Till then, he hangs above my writing desk and gives me so much joy. The gift reminds me of the faith my friends have shown in my work, even when it’s a long way out from a printed page. Also on some days I use the hammerhead to work out typing-related muscle soreness in my upper back.
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