Online Fiction: Interview with Aubrey Hirsch

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Ever play that game Two Truths and a Lie? Well, this month’s web exclusive is a little like that. Blurring the line between fact and fiction, Aubrey Hirsch’s “Albert Arnold Gore” will keep you guessing. Rendered in clear, keen prose, this set of three linked shorts offers portraits that are inventive and intriguing—and ultimately poignant and revealing. Read “Albert Arnold Gore” and check out our Q&A with the author, below.

 

MO: This piece is part of a series of what you’ve called “counterfactual biographies,” fictional stories about historical figures. Can you tell us a little bit about where you came up with the idea for these stories and what interests you about blurring the line between fact and fiction?

AH: The series started with a stand-alone piece about Amelia Earhart. I was fascinated by her story and wanted to tell another side of it, ascribing thoughts and motivations to her that we couldn’t actually know. I had so much fun writing it that I decided to try writing a series of these little flashes, each one about a different famous person.

The line between “fact” and “fiction” is something I think a lot about. They’re both fickle terms and there’s a lot of gray area between them. This is especially true when you’re talking about celebrities. At a certain point, their story becomes legend and it’s difficult to extricate the real from the invented. In my own work, I’m more interested in the fiction that lies around and in between the recorded facts: little details, inner thoughts, hidden motivations and so on.

MO: OK, so why Al Gore? And how much did you know about Al Gore (or I should say the Als Gore) before you started writing?

AH: When I’m sitting down to write one of these stories, I generally start by casting a wide net. I research lots of different people and ideas and allow myself to click random links or to indulge whatever curiosity arises until something strikes me as especially interesting. I can’t say exactly what led me to Al Gore, but as soon as I started reading about his life and his family, I knew there was a story there. I had also been thinking that it would be fun to try one of these pieces as a set of linked flashes that told one complete story. The three generations of Als, all with the same name, provided a perfect opportunity to do that.

I was still in high school when Al Gore was in office, so going in I only knew the basics: Vice President, failed presidential candidate, beard, An Inconvenient Truth. But now I feel confident in saying that I am an expert on all things Als Gore!

MO: What do you find interesting about writing linked or prompt-based stories? I know I enjoy reading them—it feels almost like watching the gears of an author’s imagination turn as they trace an idea or theme through different worlds.

AH: For me, it’s a kind of stretching. Having a “prompt” or “project” forces me to write stories I otherwise wouldn’t have written. It’s also nice to come to the blank page with some direction. I primarily work on these stories when I need a break from my novel, which is pretty intellectually draining. So when it’s time to write something else, it’s great to have a bit of guidance to get my creative energy flowing again.

MO: My favorite line in the story comes when you’re describing Al Gore III: “His tongue slides around the gaps in his teeth like a worm on a hook.” This is such a small, but beautifully rendered detail. I’m wondering if you found it challenging, in this piece and the others in the series, to home in these kinds of details when the characters you’re writing about are all these historically significant figures, who are larger than life in a way.

AH: The small details are actually the easiest part for me (and the most interesting). When I’m thinking about a scene, it generally comes to me in microcosm first. The harder part is contending with established facts, juggling the timeline and working with or against preexisting impressions of a famous person. I often find so much interesting material about my subject that I can only allude to a tiny fraction of it in the story. I guess I have to hope these little stories inspire people to do some more digging on their own.

MO: What’s up next for you? Where else can we find your writing?

AH: As I mentioned, I’m hard at work on my first novel. I’m also finishing up the counterfactual biographies series and hoping to send it off to chapbook publishers soon. You can find some of my recent work in PANKThe Emprise Review, and Daily Science Fiction, and I have stories coming out this fall inWhiskey Island MagazineFiction Southeast, and Confrontation. [Update! Aubrey’s short story collection, Why We Never Talk About Sugar, is available now!]

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