Interview with Shannon Derby

1/Your protagonist, Sam, has had three fiances. Would you describe her as practical or impulsive?

I know this sounds like a cop-out, but I would say both. She tends to be really impulsive about the decisions she makes but then approaches the aftermath of these decisions in a really calculated way. She agrees to marry Jon but also thinks about the realistic logistics of a wedding, like getting a dress, wearing blue, and choosing a place that mirrors the dream she has of her parent’s wedding. Also, she’s twenty-four. It’s a weird age where you’re starting to realize that you are a bonafide adult with bills, a job, an apartment to take care of, etc. while simultaneously trying to hold onto your youth and the freedoms that come with it. [Reflective pause while I go reheat my leftover risotto from last night's dinner out.] Come to think of it though, I don’t know if anyone ever totally conquers that split-self. Maybe the whole point of becoming an adult is learning how to strike a balance between practicality and the impulses inherent in every individual.

2/There are very funny things in “My Third Fiancé,” but Sam is almost too composed to laugh. Was your rendering of her as a more serious character a way of making her adventure with Jon more plausible or your way of gently teasing her by juxtaposing her fussiness with the plot’s strange turn of events?

I deliberately created a fussy character in Sam. If she were totally free-spirited, I think, then the story wouldn’t have worked. It would have seemed like a conversation you overhear at a bar after the third or fourth pint: “Dude, and then we decided to get married…it was sooo crazy.” If Sam weren’t so particular about, well, everything, then I think any amount of emotional depth within the story would have been lost. I’m definitely a fan of the quirky and strange in stories, but I also believe that there has to be a reason for it. When I began the story, there was never a moment where I thought, yes, these two will actually go through with the wedding because the story isn’t about a wedding, it’s about Sam coming to terms with herself through this process of adventure. Or at least I think it is. Interpretation is always up for debate.

3/Define a class five adventure, per Jon’s standards.

I like to imagine Jon sitting in his room after a particularly meaningless night with another man or a boring – not even bad but really, really boring – day at work trying to think up a class five adventure. And this is why I think he’ll never be satisfied with any adventure enough to classify it as a five, because you can never simply replace ennui or stagnancy with an adventure in order to solve all your problems.

But that’s not really fair of me. So here is what I think might make the cut in Jon’s opinion: Sam and Jon get into his car (he loves to drive), throw the atlas out of the window and head west because all they have to go on is the evening sun, which they know sets in the west. They drink loads of coffee, Coca-Cola, RedBull, anything with caffeine really and keep driving until they have no idea where they are. When they get too tired to see, they nap for two or three hours and then get back on the road. They run out of money. The levels in the gas tank are precariously low. They find themselves in the middle of a desolate highway, nothing but fields and farmland on either side of the road. And this is how they start a three-week stint as ranch hands on a cattle farm. They learn what real blisters feel like, what it means to actually be exhausted and how birth a calf with their bare hands. By the end of week three, they’ve made enough money to go back to DC and return to their “normal” lives in the city. They stop feeling quite so restless all the time. They finally fix their kitchen floor with the linoleum tiles they bought months ago.

4/Sum up your work in apt in five words: go!

Antsy, obsessive, escapist, illusion, realization.

Shannon Derby’s story “My Third Fiance” appeared in the first print issue of apt, which can be purchased here.



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