Jul 31, 2011

Talking Dinosaurs with Martín Gardella

I haven't read all of Martín Gardella's micros, because he's written many many many, but if there was one that starred a talking dinosaur I wouldn't be at all surprised.

Martín's first collection of micros, Instantáneas, which means something like 'stuff that happens in an instant', is out now via Andromeda Press and can be purchased here, here or even here, although only in Spanish at the moment I'm afraid.

He is also one of the main brains behind the hugely popular eMag Internacional Microcuentista, which since its inception just over a year ago has been doing a great job bringing together everything to do with the shortest stories - from articles, events and competitions to the stories themselves.

Martin happily took some time out of his busy writing schedule to chat minifiction with Minifiction. Here's what he had to say!


Where are you from?

I was born in the city of La Plata in Argentina, but I’ve lived in Buenos Aires since 1984.

How did you get interested in the micro?

Growing up I discovered the joy of the traditional short story, and one of my favourite books in my collection was the Anthology of Fantastic Literature compiled by Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo. I think that’s where I first came across the micro, without realising it at the time, of course. I was really surprised to find texts so short, barely a paragraph long, and I fell in love with them straight away. Later, someone read me 'The Dinosaur' and told me it was the world’s shortest story. It seemed funny to me that nobody had tried to rob the record from Monterroso by writing an even shorter story. Perhaps this is what made that moment unforgettable. Sometime later El Mago by Isidoro Blaisten ended up in my hands, the first book I came across made up solely of microstories. At that point I still hadn’t come across the terms ‘microstory’ or ‘microfiction’. Actually I still hadn’t when I began writing them in 2000. As time went on I began to discover different authors that practiced the genre, familiarising myself with different types and styles of microfiction, and by the time I became aware of it my passion had already moved from the short to the micro, and I enjoy them more and more with each passing day.

Did your writing start with the micro, or did you first write stories of a 'normal' length?

My first incursions into writing were with the traditional short story. I’d written several of a “normal” length (as you say) when, without realising it, I began to write shorter and shorter pieces, not only by choice, but also because I’m at a stage in my writing where the ideas arise in the form of microfiction. In any case, I wouldn’t rule out a return to longer forms, perhaps a novel, why not?

I find it interesting that you mentioned Monterroso's 'The Dinosaur' earlier. As it has so much renown and prestige in the world of microfiction, I’d love to hear a bit more on your thoughts about it. Who read it to you? What did you think of it at the time and what do you think of it now? Can one really consider it a ‘story’?

A friend who was attending a literary workshop read me it as something a bit novel he’d come across there. At the time, it was described as "the shortest story,” and I suppose that’s because it contains several elements typical for a story: narrative content and a plotline, the presence of characters (the subject who awakens and the dinosaur), and because at the time nobody talked about 'microfiction' as a genre in its own right. However, with a little more knowledge on the topic now, I like to imagine that the story is something different to the microrstory, which is characterised not only by its brevity, but by other elements which can be seen clearly in 'The Dinosaur', like the start in medias res, the open ending, the invitation to the reader to complete the story themselves, the multiplicity of interpretations, the surprise effect. Even if today its brevity has been surpassed by briefer stories, I don’t think anybody would deny that 'The Dinosaur' remains the most famous.

The Visitors

I realised that my sister’s dolls come to life at night. They leave, delicately, the doll’s house in the room next door and enter mine, half-naked, where they slip into the drawer in which I keep my action figures. I keep quiet so as not to disturb them and, with eyes closed, listen to the sound of plastic writhing, clattering against the wooden walls. Half an hour later they leave, smiling and dishevelled, their flexible bodies exhausted, mission complete.

This episode repeats itself, without fail, night after night, although tonight promises to be different. Peering through the door of my room, the smiling face of a life-sized doll I gave my sister for her birthday spots the thick padlock on my toy drawer, and gives me a wink. Everyone is sleeping, except us.

(Martín Gardella, 2009)

Do you have a favourite writer?

I think it’d be impossible to choose just one. I prefer brevity as a genre, because within it there are many admirable writers to learn from. However, to try and answer the question, I’ll name some of the authors that have influenced me most in my writing and passion for the form: Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Julio Cortázar, Augusto Monterroso, David Lagmanovich, Raúl Brasca, Ana María Shua, Luisa Valenzuela, Fernando Iwasaki, Max Aub, Luis Mateo Diez, Agustín Monstreal and Javier Tomeo.

Name two micros that you like a lot and tell us what you like about them.

If you’ll allow me I'll pick three! I like each of them for different reasons. The micro ‘A Crime’ (Luis Mateo Diez) is one I like a lot as I consider it a perfect example of the use of ellipsis, of a surprise ending, and the game of obliging the reader to reread the text. The correct choice of title is also fundamental here:

Under the light of the reading lamp the fly came to a stop. With care, I stretched the index finger of my right hand. Shortly after crushing it I heard a scream, then the thud of a falling body. Straight away there was a knock on the door of my room. “I’ve killed her,” said my neighbour. “Me too,” I muttered to myself without understanding him.

(Luis Mateo Diez, 1993)

Then there's the micro ‘The Ubiquity of the Apple’ (Ana Mariá Shua), which not only plays with the revision of one story but mixes a few, achieving a reasoning that is both logical and humorous:

The arrow fired from the crossbow of William Tell splits in two the apple which is about to fall onto the head of Newton. Eve takes one half and offers the other to her consort, to the serpent’s delight. In this manner the laws of gravity were never formulated.

(Ana María Shua, 1985)

I was inspired by this piece when I wrote my own story ‘The Forbidden One’, trying to incorporate even more famous apples into a story. And finally, 'Perplexity' (Raul Brasca), where in barely a tenth of a second the thoughts of three different protagonists are skilfully related.

The deer grazes with her fawns. The lion leaps onto the deer, who manages to escape. The hunter surprises the lion and the deer in full flight and prepares his rifle. He thinks: if I kill the lion I’ll have a good trophy, but if I kill the deer I’ll have a trophy and an exquisite poached hind to eat.

Suddenly, something strikes fear into the deer. She thinks: if the lion doesn’t catch me, will he go back and eat my young ones? At that moment, the lion is thinking: Why tire myself out with the mother when, with no effort at all, I can eat her kids?

Deer, lion and hunter have stopped simultaneously. Taken aback, they look at each other. They do not know that, by a most improbable coincidence, they are partaking in an instance of universal perplexity. Fish suspended mid-water, birds hanging silent in the sky, every moving being that inhabits the earth doubts, unable to move an inch.

It is the only, fleeting hole produced in the history of the world. With the hunter's shot, life resumes.

(Raul Brasca, 1994)

You only have to take a quick look at your Blog, ‘Living Sin Tiempo’, to see that you yourself are a prolific writer. Where do you get all those ideas?

Any day to day situation can be the source of inspiration behind a microstory. When an idea comes to me, I try not to let it escape, and look for a piece of paper to jot it down until I find the time to write it up and give final form to the micro. When the ideas don't come to me on their own, I like to look for them in images, songs, in other well-known micros, in a personal experience. ‘The Last Passenger’, for example, developed from images that inspired it.

The first drops struck the carrier and there was still one box on the list to be ticked off. Before it was too late, the man descended the improvised ladder to the broad plain and left the boat in search of the straggler. After minutes that seemed like hours, before the astonished looks of the rest of the species, Noah returned to the Arc drenched and cursing, carrying the tortoise by the scruff of its neck.

(Martín Gardella, 2009)

Are there themes or strategies that interest you more than others or that you’re focussing on at the moment?

I have a special interest in the fantastic microcuento, although I’ve written quite a few with a content more lyrical. There are some recurring themes in my writing, such as death, ghosts, imaginary animals, classic stories, biblical tales, stories of love and lack of love, or dinosaurs. I like playing with surprise endings that leave the reader thinking, invite them to complete the story or rob a smile from them. I place huge importance on the search for the a good title and the use of ellipsis, irony and humour.

Can you give us an idea of what you mean by ‘fantastic’?

The ‘fantastic’ genre refers to those every day, common, natural narratives, in which at some specific point something surprising or supernatural appears with the aim of provoking a feeling of confusion or unease in the reader. This includes the use of the absurd, of horror, science fiction, or generally things that don’t happen to us every day (luckily).

If It Wasn’t Because…

“If you weren’t so far away, I’d come over this very night to sleep with you,” said the voice on the phone.

“I’d welcome you with joy,” answered the lady, “If my husband wasn’t coming back tonight, having served his sentence for your murder."

(Martín Gardella, 2010)

Can you tell us a bit about your new book, Instantáneas?

Instantáneas (Andrómeda, 2010) was the result of almost two years of almost daily publication in my Blog. The book contains 158 micros of different styles, divided into four sections: “Confessions” (micros written in the first person), “Macrorealisms” (micros that are slightly longer), “Impostures” (new versions of literature’s classics) and “Fugacidades” (“Brevities”, micros of less than a paragraph in length). According to the books back flap, Instantáneas is a collection of short and very short texts that synthesize, using less than a fistful of words, ideas worthy of longer fiction, encompassing a complex world of fantasy, attitudes, horrors and visions, tackling diversity while avoiding the superfluous.

And what are you working on at the moment?

Right now I’m working on my second book of micros, which I hope to have published in 2012, on an anthology of microstories, and on a book of theory on the genre. But I’m afraid I can’t say any more than that, or else I’ll ruin the surprise!

Fatal Forgetting

The lights go out and a prolonged applause breaks the silence of the room. The young magician had just vanished from the stage before the audience’s absorbed gaze, completing an inexplicable and never-seen-before illusion, the last act of this illusionist, who never managed to remember the second part of the trick.

(Martín Gardella, 2009)


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