Part of the interview series by Laura Perrem, Long Story, Short Journal Contributing Journalist.
Photo copyright Walter Nguyen
I find it very adolescent to view death through a romantic lens and struggle to reconcile its urgency with the blandness and discomfort of daily life.
Long Story, Short Journal presents the next instalment of our interview series: a conversation with Yaron Kaver, author of our January 2016 story ‘The Dead Soldier’s Sister’. Interview series by Laura Perrem.
Laura Perrem: Where are you now?
Yaron Kaver: These days I live, write and work in New York City. Well, mostly, I work. Sometimes I write. And I’m starting to suspect the twist ending will be that I’ve actually been living this whole time…
LP: What does a typical writing day look like for you?
YK: At the Idea-Gathering Stage, I look like just another smartphone zombie, because I use email drafts to store ideas as they come throughout the day. At the Outlining Stage, I look like a TV detective mapping out his serial killer case on the wall (minus the string—I have never used string). The Actual Writing Stage is when it gets really boring. I try to produce about two pages a day, and by “try” I mean “fail”. If I’ve written five pages a week, I count that as a success.
LP: It would be difficult to discuss “The Dead Soldier’s Sister” without talking about the relationship between David and the dead soldier’s sister. Their relationship grows very organically. Can you speak a little bit about how this idea developed for you?
YK: To a certain extent, David’s relationship with the sister follows my relationship to her character as a writer. She started out as a “story solution,” a personification of David’s otherwise solitary obsession. His initial perception of her is similar to my own—it’s all about her functionality. What can he get out of her? What could I get out of her? From that point on, we progress along parallel tracks. What he gets from her is like what a junkie gets from a dealer, a fix, a rush. What I get from her is pushback, conflict. The more time he spends abusing her, the more time I spend creating that tension between what he thinks their relationship is about, and what it actually is. By the end of that process, the story belongs to her. She is the more fully realized of the two of them.
LP: “The Dead Soldier’s Sister” is set within a long-established and complex political/cultural/socio-geographical situation. At one point David’s routine is interrupted by “yet another suicide bombing”. Can you speak a little bit about how you approached framing your story within this context.
YK: As cliché as it sounds, I always thought of this story as being “universal.” I find it very adolescent to view death through a romantic lens and struggle to reconcile its urgency with the blandness and discomfort of daily life. You don’t need to be living in Israel for the idea of mortality to become the temporary focal point of your teenage existence. But for the story to work, David had to feel real, and his world had to be lived-in and precise. So rather than run away from my biography, I mined it for specificity. On the one hand, the setting allowed me to feel confident in the details of the world and its characters, having lived through the 90s as a teenager in Israel. On the other hand, it presented the risk of melodrama (and, as you mentioned in your next question, politicization). I made an effort to avoid sensationalizing the extreme events, not just for artistic considerations, but in order to get closer to the truth. Terror was a part of life, and so was downplaying the severity of its effects.
LP: Are you conscious, while writing, of your own political views and how much they should, or could, come through your writing?
YK: In an ideal world, my stories would never bring the word “politics” to mind. The reality, of course, is that just by being born Israeli or Palestinian you are forced into a lifelong ambassadorship of your country and people. This conflation of individuals and governments is debilitating, inside and outside of writing. If I’m political at all in my work, it’s in the effort to insert private, non-contentious moments into the large, dehumanizing narrative that tends to take shape—good guys vs. bad guys, David vs. Goliath, etc.—polarized views that, to my mind, leave no viable solution on the table save for the utter destruction of one side.
LP: What are you working on now?
YK: After all that, would you believe I’m working on a comedy?
Yaron Kaver has written for Israeli television and translated screenplays for hundreds of Israeli films and shows. His fiction has appeared in Cold Mountain Review, Read Short Fiction, Fractal Magazine, MonkeyBicycle and Crack the Spine. His short story “And the Oscar Goes to Jail” won first prize in the 2014 Mark Twain House Humor Writing Contest. He has a BFA in Film and Television from NYU and an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Read another story by Yaron Kaver (‘And the Oscar Goes to Jail’) at Read Short Fiction.
Laura Perrem is a Fine Art graduate of the Crawford College of Art and Design. She practices in both visual and written media. Her written practice includes poetry, short stories and art criticism. She has had poetry published in the Belleville Park Pages and is working towards her first collection of poetry.
Walter Nguyen is a French photographer. View more of his work on Flickr.