This post is part of an ongoing interview with author Mark John Isola about his forthcoming book Inky Flesh, so check back for more questions. Once posted, a link following the current Q&A will allow you to click through to read the next question–or begin reading from the first question: Why the title Inky Flesh? Quotes that are reasonably sized and maintain the context of the discussion are permitted for review, interview, academic, and blogging purposes—a link to the web page quoted will help maintain context.
Here is the current question:
Cal: What is your favorite story in Inky Flesh? And, why?
MJ: That’s a hard question because I do not write unless I am in love with a story. That sounds schlocky, but if I don’t feel it, I don’t write it, so they re all my favorites. That said, the stories that open and close the collection are probably a bit more so than the rest.
Cal: The story Higher Education opens the collection and Confession closes it. Why did you choose these stories to bookend the collection?
MJ: What I find resonantly powerful about short fiction and what I am most interested in playing with thematically, these two stories really embody these interests, so they felt like good anchors for the collection.
Higher Education considers the night in the life of young man out with a friend. In this story, two friends sit talking over their beers, but then, a stranger winks. The story progresses from flirtation to, well, you will have to read it to find out. I like the slice of life focus that follows flirtation. Confession, on the other hand, is about reflection. In this story, a not so young guy finds himself grappling with the choices he has made and the life he did not live. Yet, he finds himself in the here and now faced with, well, there again, you’ll have to read it to find out. From flirtation to reflection, both stories felt like natural bookends for the collection.
I appreciate this question because it lets me to speak to the curation of the collection, which I spent quite a bit of time considering and reconsidering. Such is the invisible effort behind the printed word. Both stories also really concentrate the themes I am most interested in exploring within Inky Flesh.
Cal: Can you elaborate on theme? What themes are you most interested in exploring?
MJ: Rejection and reincarnation: these are common experiences for gays and lesbians, for all humans really but especially for gay people, that frequently appear as themes in my fiction. I view these as part of the coming out experience. Coming out is a deeply personal and wildly idiosyncratic experience, but these themes powerfully inform a common sensibility that derives from this experience.
This is not to say gays and lesbians have the same sensibility but to gesture toward a generally shared experience. There is oppression within this, but there is also a stunning sense of empowerment. This informs the sense of autonomy and independence that often permeates the GLBTQ spectrum. After all, fags make poor followers, and dykes give directions—they don’t take ‘em. I am joking, of course, but jokes are usually sourced by a kernel of truth or else they fail to be funny. The truth in this case is the experience of otherness that comes from realizing the self as a sexual outsider.
This rupture is a profound experience that allows an individual to clearly know the difference between who you are and what others want you to be. This is a powerful character building experience. This is the good news behind something like the It Gets Better Project. I think this is the peace, empowerment, and unshakable sense of self that many gay and lesbian individuals feel when they say they would not change being gay.