Rum Punch: Here at Rum Punch Press, we love food and we love literature, but give us a combination of the two and we’re all yours. What was the appeal of using a culinary theme in your story?
William Auten: The appeal of using Chopped as one of the backgrounds and as one of the narrative frameworks emerged as part of my process. My wife loves the show; I became a fan; I thought I’d toy around with it in some aspect, using the personalities of the judges and drama of the show as a starting point; and the more I worked these early impulses the more I saw a seriousness underlying not only the show itself but also the show as it related to my story. I like to take disparate things—ideas, concepts, images—and to find out if I can snowball them together somehow. I would say that the majority of these snowballs never end up the way they started, and I want those snowballs to change, to be transformed, especially as I interact with them and as the piece becomes clearer. With this particular piece, I liked finding out where the ideas of time, reality, truth, and fiction fit in and play off each other. Chopped just came out after pushing around what was in front of me. I said, “What if I do this, and what if I do this?” It just went from there, and that’s part of the joy for me.
RP: One of the most interesting things about “A Sweet Taste Under the Skin” was the way the Chopped format set the pulse of the story and gave the narrative a sort of countdown clock to the final scene. What are your thoughts about compelling ways of manipulating time in fiction in order to give the reader a sense of urgency?
WA: Messing around with time is one of the things I love to do in fiction. But I think if you’re going to mess around with time then it should be interesting and compelling, and I think that manipulation coupled with whatever a character wants, or doesn’t want, helps create an urgency. For me, manipulating time in fiction reflects how our brains work: circular, in fits, starts and stops, linear, nonlinear, revising, filling in the gaps, feelings rather than facts, all that good stuff neurologists and psychologists have studied. These things—time, storytelling, fictionalizing, justifying, the evolution of our brains—are really just examining what it means to be a human.
RP: Between reality television and celebrity chefs and Disneyland, there are some great pop culture references in your story. Do you think that writers need to be concerned about “dating” a story by using contemporary icons or do they add something essential to a narrative?
WA: No, I don’t think there’s any concern, and I think they can add something, maybe essential or maybe at the least a kind of trail marker to follow or not, and here’s why: First, we live in a culture that readily allows for us to pull up just about anything dated or historical or things gone by or the way things used to be or “Remember when?” Google; YouTube; Wiki; Web sites devoted to TV shows, movies, fan fiction; LARP; SCA; vinyl records, any of it and all of it. Les temps perdu. Second, for me, contemporary icons are just things that can or cannot be used. Maybe they add; maybe they don’t. I want to find out either way. They can be decorative, or they can be part of the engine, or, if it all clicks, both.
RP: What are you currently working on, and where can we read more of your writing?
WA: My first novel is under consideration with agents and publishing houses; I’ve drafted my second; and a third is in the works. My first short-story collection is in circulation too. I’ll have more short stories out soon, thanks to journals such as Rum Punch Press, and people can find about their availability through my Web site (www.williamauten.com) and the social media links I provide. Stop by and connect.