The following is an interview with writer Nancy Stohlman regarding the upcoming release of the flash novel, After the Rapture, through Mason Jar Press. In this interview, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief Barbra Dillon chats with Stohlman about the creative process of bringing this book to life *prior to* the COVID-19 pandemic, what she hopes that readers may take away from the story, and more!
Barbra Dillon, Fanbase Press Editor-in-Chief: Congratulations on the upcoming release of After the Rapture! For those who may be unfamiliar, how would you describe the book’s premise, and what inspired you to tell this story (notably in advance of the COVID pandemic)?
Nancy Stohlman: Thank you! After the Rapture is ostensibly a social satire that, yes, was written before the pandemic. It begins with “The Bad Thing,” and when I wrote this story in 2015, there were already plenty of Bad Things happening: daily shootings, election madness, immigration hell, etc. And from there I just keep imagining a world in which things continued to get worse, all while the people were waiting for a sort of redemption in The Rapture. But what they got is not at all what they thought it would be. Whether they are pilgrimaging to the Very First Kentucky Fried Chicken, living in life-sized Barbie houses, taking the Marriott staff hostage, trading Candy Corn on Wall Street, or draining Loch Ness to “find out the goddamn truth once and for all,” there’s a familiar sort of desperation in this post-Rapture existence. In moments, you will laugh at the absurdity of their world, and in other moments, the darkness will feel all too familiar.
What I didn’t expect was how close to the truth my original satire would become. When the pandemic hit, I nearly abandoned the manuscript, thinking it had become completely irrelevant!
BD: The novel deftly navigates the line between truth and satire, having become incredibly prescient in the past few years. What can you share with us about your creative process in bringing the book to life, and what is your experience in revisiting it in these more challenging times?
NS: I learned so much about satire these last few years! As I see it, the job of satire is to feel into the edges, to push the boundaries of reality into a sort of controlled ridiculousness. We begin in reality and then move into the absurdity in a controlled way–almost so slowly we don’t see it coming until we’re already there. (I’m thinking of Jonathan Swift’s classic satire, A Modest Proposal, where he “proposes” to solve poverty by eating the poor.) To “see” down a satirical trajectory is a kind of visionary endeavor–you have to follow the ley lines from reality into the ridiculous… and then push it even further.
Sometimes, when I was writing this book, I would just google “ridiculous news” or “ridiculous headlines” and begin from there. It is a real feat of imagination to stay ahead of the madness that is actually unfolding! You have to be sharp…and fast! Or you may find, as I did, that your satire is coming true as fast as you write it. I only made one revision post-pandemic: I cut my original snarky ending (The post-pandemic world didn’t need any more sarcasm.) and instead moved a favorite, but very different section, to the end. That piece, while still surreal, was also vibrating with hope, which I realized was how the story needed to end now.
BD: At Fanbase Press, our #StoriesMatter initiative endeavors to highlight the impact that stories can have on audiences of various mediums. How do you feel that the story will connect with and impact readers?
NS: This is a great question, and, honestly, I’m just as curious to find out! A part of me worried that people would think I wrote about the pandemic and not realize the actual backstory. I went so far as to consider a whole sort of preface or “disclosure” at the beginning. But I finally let that go, because, to speak to your question, once the book is born, it’s out of your hands, having its own adventures and making its own relationships in the world without you getting to follow around and set the story straight. The story has to speak for itself. So, I trusted that it would.
And in terms of other mediums, I don’t know how, or what kind of impact it will make, but I know it will happen. Because all artists speak the same language, even if our tools are different. I find writing inspiration in museums and symphonies and movies and photographs. So, why wouldn’t those working in other mediums also find inspiration in words? My last book, Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction, taught me a lot about that phenomenon. Even though I was writing a book about flash fiction, and I imagined my audience was writers, SO many non-writers reached out to tell me how the book also applied to them: in music, acting, or even just living a creative, thoughtful life.
So, I have no doubt the book will make friends and have conversations that I never could have planned. But that’s the wonderful thing about art, after all. It really doesn’t belong to you.
BD: Do you foresee expanding the novel into subsequent books or even into other entertainment mediums, if given the opportunity?
NS: Expanding. Hmmm…a new wave of inspiration would have to hit (i.e., I wouldn’t expand it just to expand it), and that hasn’t happened yet; however, I do have a performance background, so translating it into other mediums is very interesting to me and I’m always thinking about that crossover. Right now, I’ve got a proposal for an audiobook version, I’m working on an art-house style book trailer (Think: The Rapture as a short film.), and I could definitely see the book as a film or live performance. Recently, I was asked to make a “Rapture Playlist,” and that was another fun, creative way to re-envision the world of the book through music. Here’s that playlist on Spotify.
BD: Are there any upcoming projects on which you are currently working that you would like to share with our readers?
NS: I’m in the middle of a new writing project that combines tarot and Greek mythology with a kind of Midwestern Gothic. I’m deep in that project now, so I suspect I will be hanging out there for the next year or two still, making sense of and bringing that story to fruition. This is honestly the best part of being a writer—sometimes, I don’t even want to finish!
And I’m always creating opportunities to engage with other writers through online workshops, advanced mentoring and masterminds, and in-person retreats, which are amazing! Writing and travel are two of my very favorite things, and to bring them into communication is magical; I love provide opportunities for writers to spoil themselves by having a little adventure to feed the soul while taking a deep dive into the heart of the work. In a very real way, I feel like I’m making dreams come true.
Join us this August in gorgeous Grand Lake, Colorado: www.flashfictionretreats.com
And here is a list of my upcoming events (This is updated at www.nancystohlman.com.):
March 9 (Thursday) AWP Split Lip and Mason Jar Press Reading, AWP Edition, featuring Athena Dixon, Tucker Leighty-Phillips, Melissa Matthewson, Mary Lyn Reed, Nancy Stohlman, and Zach VandeZande
6-8 pm, Ozzie’s, 105 W. Mercer Street, Seattle,
March 10 (Friday) AWP Book Signing @ Bending Genres Table Friday, Friday 11 am-12 pm
March 11: (Saturday) AWP Book Signing @Split Lip Table AWP Saturday 12-1 pm
April 7: (Virtual) Fbomb NYC, 6 pm EST featuring Nancy Stohlman with guests Paul Beckman, Meg Tuite, Robert Vaughan, Len Kuntz, Kona Morris, Jonathan Montgomery, Rob Geisen, and Kathy Fish
May 18: (Virtual) Hundred Pitchers of Honey Reading Series with Courtney LeBlanc, Yael Aldana, Nancy Stohlman. 7:30 PM EST time.
June 1: In person: Rally Reading Series Pete’s Candy Store, NYC. Full lineup TBA
June 19: In person: Featured Reader, Spoken Word Paris. Full lineup TBA
June 22: In person: Featured Reader, Paris Lit Up. Full lineup TBA
July 14-16: Reader and Workshop Leader, Flash Fiction Festival in Bristol, UK August 15-20: Open Your Art: High Altitude Inspiration in the Rocky Mountains Writing Retreat (www.flashfictionretreats.com)
BD: Lastly, what is the best way for our readers to find more information about After the Rapture and your other work?
Thanks so much for having me!
Nancy Stohlman is the author of six books including After the Rapture (2023), Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities (2018), The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories (2014), The Monster Opera (2013), Searching for Suzi: a flash novel (2009), and Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction (2020), winner of the 2021 Reader Views Gold Award and re-released in 2022 as an audiobook. Her work has been anthologized widely, appearing in the Norton anthology, New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction and The Best Small Fictions 2019, as well as adapted for both stage and screen. She teaches at the University of Colorado Boulder and holds workshops and retreats around the world. Find out more at www.nancystohlman.com.