'Schools aren't quite as innocent as they appear': An interview with Claire Hopple

Claire Hopple's piece, PROJECTOR, appears in our Spring 2016 issue.
Questions from both myself and Assistant Editor Brenton Woodward.

 

1. This piece opens with two pretty unsettling descriptions:

“His snot formed a tributary into his open mouth.”

and

" ‘Yes,’ he said, shaking her hand, which was much like laying a raw slab of steak on the grill.”

The effect of the slab of steak in particular is sort of alienating—it catches the reader off-guard. What were you looking to achieve by setting the tone with those images and catching readers off guard in the beginning of the piece?

I think any time you're interacting with humans, their behaviors and attributes can surprise you and you don't always know how to react to them, or how you're supposed to react to them. These descriptions highlight this idea through the eyes of Ranger, but they're intended to put the reader in his position, to think about how the reader would personally handle them.

 

2. In fact, alienating and sinister imagery continues throughout the piece: the bus’s hand pulls like “a line of nooses waiting for necks,” the “gymnasium’s sticky, fetid embrace.” Could you talk about the choice to incorporate such imagery in an otherwise fairly innocent story about a near-retiree projecting slides for some schoolkids?

Schools aren't quite as innocent as they appear. Kids can be harsh to each other. Also, as Ranger thinks about retirement, he can't help but be confronted with his own mortality. When you retire, what's next? Your future has the potential to become telescoped if you let it.

 

3. Do you have any background working in education? If so, how did that inform the writing of this piece?

I was a school-based therapist for a couple of years, but I think I was primarily reflecting on my own elementary school experience while writing this piece. I remember being very young and watching a guy flip through slides during an assembly and I absolutely loved it. I wanted to bring the idea of him back in a more current context.

 

4. Do you have any new projects in the works now? Any upcoming publications you want to tell us about?

I'm always working on something, even if it's just a few bullet points in a notebook. I just finished one story a couple of days ago about two cops watching a museum employee on security tapes.

As far as publications, in the past month or so, my stories have appeared in Maudlin House, Souvenir Lit, Hermeneutic Chaos, Breakwater Review, Clamor and Third Point Press.

I have a collection of stories I'd like to get published, and I'm just starting on that process for the first time. If anyone out there has advice on that front, I'm open to it.

 

5. Have you discovered any great new (or new-to-you) authors recently?

Caitlin Horrocks, Amelia Gray and Zach VandeZande are all fairly new discoveries for me. I'm astounded at their abilities and imaginations. They're helping me grow as a writer.

 

6. What are you reading right now?

“Democracy” by Joan Didion. It's a short novel, and I'm flying through it. Her use of dialogue is staggering.