Monday, June 30, 2008

Chalres Tan Interviews Elizabeth Ziemska

The title of your story, "A Murder of Crows", seems a perfect fit and works on many levels. Did you start writing the story with the title in mind or if not, how did you come up with it?

The title of my story, "A Murder of Crows," came to me, almost as a gift, while I was writing the second draft. A friend was telling me about all these wonderful names for groups of animals: a something-of-something, a parliament of owls, a murder of crows--and I had an AHA! moment.

I had wanted to write something about animals turning the tables on humans ever since I read Patricia Highsmith's "Beastly Tales of Animal Murder," particularly "Ming's Biggest Prey," about a Siamese cat that kills her mistress's lover.

What is your writing process like? Did you initially know where the story would take you or was the fable-like style and ending a product of your subconscious?

"A Murder of Crows" began with a scene: a man is burying his wife in the backyard; a tiny lapdog (Chekhov's animal protagonist in "Lady With a Dog") runs out onto the lawn. I sat down to write and the story kind of poured out of me. When I sent the story to David Gates, my first teacher at the Bennington Writing Seminars, he pulled it out of my pile of pale T.C. Boyle imitations, and said "this may not be the sort of story that you want to write, but it may be the sort of story that you do write." Or something like that. Anyway, he helped me get on the road of fantastical fiction.

In the first draft, I had given the story a comic happy ending, but Martha Cooley, my second teacher at Bennington, chastised me for pulling my punches. That's when I realized that the crows would not be able to go on living their happy crow lives after killing the man. So it's Martha's fault that the crows had to die.

How does it feel to be a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Awards? Will we be seeing more fiction from you in the future?

I'm about 2/3 finished with a novel entitled, LIFE CYCLE OF THE STURGEON. It's about Russian history, the concept of the "10th muse," and two women who come to realize that they are mythological creatures.

Our fundraising anthology, Jack Haringa Must Die! is now available. Price: $10

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