We loved Laura’s story, “Natural Selection” and we know you wanted to know more about it, so here you go, introducing Laura Knapp.
Rum Punch Press:There are clear influences of Hemingway and Conrad here. As we were reading, Hemingway’s “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” came to mind, as well as Heart of Darkness. Are there any writers or stories in particular that you find yourself going back to as inspiration?
Laura Knapp: “Mister Squishy” by David Foster Wallace was kind of a revelation for me, and reminded me that the corporate world really is a bottomless source for satire. Plus, I love his unbridled use of a technical, jargony voice in that story, which added to the humor and, frankly, the realism. Stuart Dybek is another writer that makes me want to get up and start writing after I read him. He grew up on Chicago’s South Side, not terribly far from where I grew up, and he’s such a poetic and often really humorous writer.
Also, I’m in a writers’ group, and besides challenging me to be a better writer, the other members also inspire me with the pieces they bring in for critique. For example, one guy has been bringing in chapters of a noir novel he’s writing, in the tradition of post-war pulp fiction. It has this great voice, complicated plot and lots of dark humor. I was skeptical of it at first but it drew me in, and now I’m finishing up a short story that has a noir sensibility.
And finally, I wasn’t consciously thinking about “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” while I was writing “Natural Selection,” but as soon as I had finished it, I thought to myself, “Oh yeah, that Hemingway story.”
RP: We love your dark, arch sense of humor (it hits close to home). When you began writing “Natural Selection,” did you plan for it to be funny?
Actually, when I first started writing “Natural Selection,” the scene opened with the manager choking and the protagonist trying to decide whether to apply the Heimlich maneuver. I got as far as the first few paragraphs and realized it was too serious and far too boring. I realized I had to amp things up to a somewhat absurd level, mostly because that would make it much more fun to write. Also, big cats appear in a lot of literary works I love, from “A Hunger Artist” to “Life of Pie,” and then there are those news stories about wealthy people going on safaris and killing these magnificent animals. The idea of turning the tables on the humans was too tempting to pass up.
RP: One of the best parts of preparing for this interview was getting reread this story. A favorite and climactic moment is here:
“Its bright orange fur blazed against the lush foliage, a fire that didn’t burn. I saw its face
through the rifle’s sight, saw its raw ferocity. Witnessing this was like spitting into the Grand Canyon, experiencing personal insignificance in the face of Nature. But if I let the tiger go, they’d hunt it down anyway. They’d assume it was the same creature that had killed those three others last year, and they would keep hunting it until they finally killed it. So, if its fate was sealed, might as well be me as any other, right? But, what about its endangered status? What about honor to this paradigm of Nature’s power?”
The metaphor here is very strong. What commentary are you making on the corporate world here, given the story’s surprise ending?
LK: I’ve worked in corporate America on and off since the 1990s, and I have strong opinions about this environment. There is something very human about capitalism in general, but it’s also ruthless. It’s probably cliche to say so. But you’ve got to love the irony of people striving to act professional while engaging in survival-of-the-fittest games. And I think the hierarchical structure of a large corporation plays with people’s egos and exacerbates power struggles.
Of course, ruthlessness has always existed in human endeavors, and it’s proof that we belong to the animal world, fighting for survival and power.
RP: Where can we find more of your work?
LK: I recently had a short story published by Rose Red Review (www.roseredreview.org) and another story published in Rivulets 28, the latest publication put out by the Naperville Writers’ Group (www.napervillewritergroup.org ).