Read the first interview with Mike Bahl about his book Scenic Utah here.
“Refining My Sense of Humor” is the shortest story. Would you say it’s flash fiction, or more of a vignette? What is the main tension here, and do you think it resolves?
I wrote it for a contest run by opiummagazine.com and I think they used the term flash fiction. I usually say short-short. I’m not so sure there’s much in the way of a difference. It’s a story that happens to use very few words to tell itself.
The tension here really isn’t all that different from “All Out.” That is to say, being young and wasting the best years of your life being in crappy social situations you don’t really want to be in, but feel like you should be, for some reason. Eventually, we learn to stay home alone and watch baseball games while trying to convince the dog to snuggle. Within the context of the story, I’d say it resolves itself in Tina realizing that she is kinda where she wants to be because Nicole is there with her. I feel gross having written that sentence.
If you could give context to this story, what would it be?
I suppose I could give you my context (which, I’d only ever briefly considered), but what’s the fun in that? The short-short is meant to be just itself, this small, wondrous burst of emotional self. I’d hate to ruin that for a reader.
The title frames the story in that peers affect what each other thinks is funny. Why would Nicole and Tina find a story about rape funny?
It’s not about rape; it’s about the shock of bringing rape up in a pleasantry-based social setting. Some people need to push buttons. Some people are born heels.
To kinda more specifically answer why, though: it’s easier to make jokes about things that haven’t happened to you, in general. Not necessarily always true, but generally speaking.
What challenges do you find with writing a female POV? In this story, why does the female POV matter—why make that choice?
It’s the same thing to write for a woman, but you use the word pussy instead of dick.
If I college-lit-class my own work here: it’s less offensive, easier on the reader if both “main” characters are female. When females use rape in a jokey context, it’s easier to stomach, generally speaking, because they are, generally speaking, the victims of this act. Obviously, this is complicated by the fact that I am actually male. The narrator may be female, but the person behind the narrator is not. In a short-short where you have to play off of a reader’s assumptions, two females works best. If the narrator were a male, there would be no story. A guy made a rape joke, nothing out of the ordinary here. If the partner is male, the reader’s going to assume the partner is terrified and protective and about to go into a furious rage, because I only have so many words and I can’t explain all that away. Two females means the reader gets the shock of the joke (which is what the room feels), but can then move past that shock, into the partner’s love.
Or something. I feel like this is a lot of words about not a lot of words. I’m analyzing the joke, which doesn’t usually turn out well.