My friend, Avital Gad-Cykman, has a collection of flash fiction published and available now with Matter Press, entitled Life In, Life Out. She is an award-winning and internationally published writer with a uniquely beautiful style and voice. I cannot recommend her work highly enough. I wanted to talk to Avital about the book, her life and her writing life. I started by asking her to talk a bit about her background. So, without further ado…
When I look back, now that Kathy has asked me to tell about my background, I find it has had an ambiguity about it all along. I grew up in a small town not far from the Negev Desert in Israel, and I remember with longing the small house surrounded by a few others like it, open fields, golden dunes and then the beach. Later, I came to realize that because most of us children who lived there so freely, almost wildly, were the sons and daughters of holocaust survivors, there was a kind of tempting but cruel deep shadow right beside us, between us and our parents and between us and the world. I wrote about it in my story Islands of Salt that appears in Per Contra.
Still, I have fond memories from that town and then another by the beach, until the time my father passed away and everything changed. Someone told me that the coincidence of that loss with my then age of twelve is unfortunate, because my feeling that everything about me shuttered and yet hardened then is typical to many people who led uneventful life at that age but feel they left Paradise and entered (an adolescent) Hell just then.
Anyway, I had written poems and tiny plays since I learned to write, and after losing my father I moved to writing down poems full of my quarrel with God, when I wasn’t busy thinking about boys. Then, from the age of sixteen I lived on my own. My mother, too, became sick and passed away. It’s almost ironic that my parents’ constant worry for me turned around and was realized in their own absence from my life.
I couldn’t speak about it, not much, but since I had to express the fierce pain somehow, along with the passions and longings, and the absurd of the co-existence of pleasure and loss, I wrote diaries, and when they did not satisfy me, I tried this and that until I turned away from facts to imagination and wrote one short story–a flash as it’s called today–when I was already living in Brazil with my own family, and a friend from Canada and another from Australia, people I met in my early living through the Internet, both told me I should write more of it, and I did and became deeply involved with fiction.
Kathy: What went into some of the choices you made for the book, i.e. why that title, why structured in two parts, why the titles for the two parts? To me, it feels like the first half of the book has more magic realism elements, the second half more straight realism. But I feel like more went into the chosen structure, so if you could talk a little about that…
Avital: It took me a while to come up with the title because the collection deals with war, strife, resistance, parenthood, childhood, passion and longing. While some flashes go into the psyche, others have their feet set well on the ground. I finally realized that they light a certain life, or a moment in life, and move on to another and another. So there came Life In. Life out.
The first part is more surrealistic. It’s titled Sudden Changes after one of the more dramatic flashes, because many flashes speak about that confrontation with the uncomfortable, unexpected and even bizarre. The second part, Minute Life Length, is more realistic, though there are moments in two or three flashes that are borrowed from the mind rather than from an earthy existence. I included in this part the flashes that played into one another in a slightly chronological way of a lifetime, which feels like a brief one.
Kathy: Who are your literary heroes or influences? In terms of flash, who are your favorite flash writers?
Avital: I love so many writers that if I imagine them as my heroes what comes to mine is a whole army of literary guardians, my superpower…From the times before I became a writer and still used to reread books I fondly remember David Grossman, whose Hebrew prose is magnificent, Mikail Bulgakov whose irony and passion create unique semi-existing worlds, Jean Genet whose provocative, sensuous writing questions everything, and Gabriel Garcie Marquez whose stories are worlds of their own. I am painfully aware of the fact that I didn’t have any female author whose books I followed, collected and devoured. I did read and reread Doris Lessing’s Golden Notebooks, but not her other works. Anyway, I have since became an avid reader of women authors, among them the insightful, sharp and varied Margaret Atwood, the intimate, psyche researcher Elena Ferrante, and the genius short story teller Alice Munro. There are so many other authors I love I simply can’t list them all. I should add rapidly a few from the younger generation: Amir Gutfreund who writes beautifully about my childhood and my Israel, or so it seems, Aleksandar Hemon who writes with humor and pain about exile among other things, and Jhumpa Lahiri whose short stories astound me with their exquisite storytelling. I am also blessed with friends: writers whose writing I adore and admire, but they are many and I’m afraid to start counting.
I can’t say I seek flashes over other forms of writing, but I love it. Many of the authors I’ve already mentioned write it beautifully. A master of it, however, is Julio Cortazar with his surreal worlds that may just be the world in which we live.
Kathy: I definitely see the influence of Marquez and Lahiri in your work, Avital. What are the themes you find yourself returning to in your writing? Over and over in your stories, mentions of war and peace, past wars, current fears, the idea of invasion and these I know are drawn from life, family, history and culture.
Avital: It is hard for me to determine my themes, because it seems to me that I write about whatever sparks my attention, an intense moment, emotion or situation, an intriguing idea, humorous or dream-like or words that encapsulate a story in them. However, when I read my flashes for a conversation about them and about the female body in literature written by women in general, I suddenly realized how lovers, pregnant women, mothers and others had a visceral sense of the world through their bodies. Then I read it to edit it, and I was struck by the thread of war that goes through them, along with emotions of resistance and dread. So, I guess that it depends on the readers (including me) and on their state of mind to find the persisting issues.
BIO: Avital Gad-Cykman is the winner of Margaret Atwood Society Magazine Prize and The Hawthorne Citation Contest. She is a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee and a finalist for Iowa Fiction Award for story collections.
Her stories have appeared in magazines such as The Literary Review, Glimmer Train, McSweeney’s, Prism International, CALYX Journal, and Michigan Quarterly Review. Her work has also been featured in anthologies such as Sex for America, Politically Inspired Fiction, Stumbling and Raging, Politically Inspired Fiction, and W.W. Norton’s International Flash Anthology. She was born and raised in Israel and now she lives in Brazil. Contact her at email@example.com