Mary Akers: Hey, David. Thanks for letting us have your wonderful Shorts On Survival piece, Gardening at Dusk. One of the first thing that strikes me about this piece is that it is told in second person. Could you give us a little insight into the decision to use a second-person voice to tell this story?
David Mohan: Hi Mary, thanks for including my piece in r.kv.r.y. It’s an honour.
I chose second-person for this piece because I wanted to emphasise the character’s distance from themself. The story is about grief and the second-person seemed the right choice to convey the peculiar numbness that goes with that experience. That was the main reason, but I think the second-person also allows the reader into a story in an unique way. It allows a sort of identification to occur.
MA: I know a lot of people who say they don’t like second-person, but I’m a big fan of it when it’s done well. I’ve always thought that it’s a nice way to blur the lines between first and third person narratives. Just the right mix of closeness and distance. You also tell the majority of this story in present tense. I’m curious: why present tense?
DM: I think you’re right. The second-person has to be handled carefully. It can be incredibly striking or, at its worst, mannered. I don’t use it that much, but I appreciate its value—particularly in flash pieces.
As for the present tense—I use it rarely. But I wanted a blend of immediacy and empathy in this piece—I think the second-person and the present tense can produce that.
MA: This piece strikes me as somewhat non-traditional (present tense, second person, flash fiction) and I mean that as a compliment. Do you enjoy taking stylistic risks as a writer?
DM: I don’t know about stylistic risks, but I do enjoy writing about characters and situations that are very far from my own experience. That is endlessly interesting. I don’t tend to play with tense or point-of-view that much to be honest, but I enjoy taking on the challenge of new voices.
MA: Who are some of your favorite authors? Do they take stylistic risks in their published work?
DM: A list of my favourite authors would include Angela Carter, Michael Ondaatje, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Salman Rushdie and Anton Chekhov. I think they are all risk-takers in various ways. I suppose I like writers who have a maverick quality. Carter and Ondaatje are definitely stylistic risk-takers. Carter is particularly fearless.
MA: I like those writers, too. I’m a fan of writing that doesn’t play it safe. I work hard to push myself in that direction in my own work, even though it’s sometimes scary in an unmooring, exhilarating sort of way. How does that sort of writing make you feel?
DM: I’ve been writing flash pieces recently. I’ve discovered that I’m a fan of flash fiction, hybrid forms, prose poetry and poetic prose. Writing flash—for me at least—tends to lead towards experimentation, so I’m enjoying that aspect of it. I think most bad writing also happens to be conventional in some way. I know when I produce something that I’m unhappy with it’s usually because I feel it’s too safe, ‘nice’, simplistic or clichéd.
MA: And finally, what does “recovery” mean to you?
DM: For me, recovery means learning to trust the world again. I’ve experienced grief this year and as far as I can see recovery can only happen when you’re willing to surrender yourself to life despite the knowledge that it can hurt you.