Collateral Damage: a Triptych (RopeWalk Press, 2013)
What’s the oldest piece in the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The oldest piece is “Leave;” the others are not yet potty trained.
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? How did they influence your writing or your desire to make a chapbook of your own?
All-time favorite chapbook: The Wild Party by Joseph Moncure March. That counts, yes?
What’s your chapbook about? How is it similar to or different from your earlier work?
Because he’s so swagadocious, I’ll pop in Daniel Handler’s kind words about the book as an answer: “Harsh and beautiful, yearning and deadly, the stories of Soma Mei Sheng Frazier will remind you of nothing less than the whole wide world.”
What made you decide to gather your pieces in a chapbook instead of another format? When did you realize you were working toward a chapbook?
Agents kept telling me to write a novel, and I just couldn’t at the time (though now I’m at work on one), so I selected three stories that fit together and submitted to an editor whose work I deeply respect. Only when Nicole Louise Reid, of RopeWalk Press, phoned me to say I’d won her literary competition did I realize that I truly had a chapbook.
How did you decide on the length, arrangement, and title of your chapbook?
I’d thought about the title for a few years. The saddest damage that we do to one another, and to ourselves, I think, is collateral damage. The length was organic to the work, and I ordered the stories to guide the reader through drama and then dilemma, to hope. That’s a course that many fortunate lives take, I figured, so why not?
Did you submit your chapbook to contests, open reading periods, or both?
Contests only; or rather, contest only.
To what degree did you collaborate on the cover image and design of your chapbook?
To a great degree: RopeWalk was a dream to work with.
In what ways did your chapbook change between the version you submitted and the final published version? Did you revise, rearrange, or make other changes?
Two characters’ names changed – one because it was too similar to another name in the book, and one because Reid pointed out that it was too generic. Other changes were minimal; a word stricken here or there.
What have you done to promote and publicize your chapbook?
Thus far, with the book still awaiting publication, I’ve used social media and email. RopeWalk also sent me some gorgeous little cards, with the cover of the book on the front and Nikki Giovanni’s gracious blurb on the back. Shyly, I’ve begun handing those out.
How have your goals as a writer changed since your chapbook was published? What are you working on now?
Shortly after I learned that my book had been selected by RopeWalk for publication, I made a decision to try and write books for a living. Now I’m working on a novel for a William Morris Endeavor agent who queried me based upon my success in Glimmer Train contests. I alternate between elation and dread.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Write what you’re driven to write. Afterwards, curate your collection. No matter how short the book is, it needs to make sense as a single work. And finally, submit to publishers whose work you relish.
Do you have a favorite prompt or revision technique? What is it?
As you read your own work, note where it hits you: in the gut? The brain? Below the belt? Mix it up. You want to pummel all of your reader’s faculties. Uh, in a kind and satisfying way.
Here’s a question from Karin Gottshall: have you ever fantasized about starting your own press?
No. Wait, let me think about it. No.
However, poet Arisa White (featured here on Jay-Z’s website) and I plan on launching a literary journal in late 2015. She’s absolutely fabulous, and makes the venture appealing rather than overwhelming.
And here’s a question from Terry Lucas: do you have a full-length manuscript? If so, describe the relationship of your chapbook to it.
I’ve got two full-length manuscripts, one of which is in not-so-secret agent man Kirby Kim’s hands (he’s with William Morris Endeavor, and – having e-stalked him – I’d be honored should he offer to represent me). That collection shares the chapbook’s theme of collateral damage caused by our incessant involvement in war. More broadly, the collection deals with distress: how we experience it, send out a call for help and, if we’re lucky, are answered.
The second book is a novel that I’m very juiced about. I aim to complete it by the time I shake Kirby’s hand at this year’s AWP Conference.
I’m honored, humbled and blown away by the blurbs that I’ve received (from Nikki Giovanni, Daniel Handler/Lemony Snicket, Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Molly Giles and Antonya Nelson) and intend to use the chapbook as a literary calling card for anyone interested in reading my work prior to the longer books’ release.
What question would you like to ask the next chapbook author featured at Speaking of Marvels?
Have you considered donating a portion of your sales toward an urgent cause?
Soma Mei Sheng Frazier’s debut collection, Collateral Damage: a Triptych, is winner of the 2013 RopeWalk Press Editor’s Fiction Chapbook Prize. It will be published on the heels of Glimmer Train, Issue 89, where one of the stories will appear. Her work has been singled out by Robert Olen Butler, Nikki Giovanni and others – and placed in competitions offered by Zoetrope, Glimmer Train, Mississippi Review and more. Her poetry has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, and one of her award-winning short fiction pieces was named a Notable Story of 2009 by the storySouth Million Writers Award authors.
I have this dear friend who once shook a cat until it bled from the ear. I didn’t know that could happen.
__It kept clawing at my leg, she said by way of explanation.
__Well, that’s what cats do, I told her, though I’ve never had a cat. Then I forgave her because I knew how rough she’d had it. Once, when we were fourteen or fifteen, I heard the phone go dead and assumed she’d dropped it. I later learned that her mom had snatched it away and smacked her with it. This was one of those old school, heavy black rotary phones that you see in 1940s movies, being dialed by celluloid fingers. I visited her recovery room, after the incident. One side of her face was black. She thought it was a boy, she wrote on a legal pad, because she couldn’t quite use her mouth.
__When I told my friend that cats would be cats, she replied, very slowly: You’re right. I probably shouldn’t have pets. She shook some major memory out of her head. I won’t get another cat.
__Now this dear friend has birthed a baby. He looks strong, with legs like stout white radishes: daikon ashi, they call them in Japan. Still, he’s a baby, wordless, unguarded, and I worry for him. He kept crying, I’m waiting for her to say over the phone.