Didn’t you just get married?

I did! Thank you for remembering.

 

How’s newlywed life going?

So far, so good. We went through a phase of calling each other Husband and Wife instead of our names, but that’s stopped for the most part. It’s nice to be settling back into normality.

 

Let’s talk about all this fire in your book. Are you a pyromaniac?

No, but I have been known to become entranced by a bonfire, to stare at a flickering candle and just resist the urge to reach out and touch it. I bet that’s happened to you, too. From my observation, humans share an attraction to fire, a reverence that comes from some primal place. We honor fire because it can both help and hurt us. It provides us with heat, light, a way to cook our food, yet it can also disfigure us, kill us, destroy everything we have worked so hard to build. The line between who is in control—us or the fire—can change in an instant, and secretly we all know that fire, or any natural element, truly has the upper hand.

 

Was this reverence for fire the genesis of Spark?

Partially. The idea really began with my interest in reverence within sibling relationships, in particular reverence or responsibility that is one-sided. Growing up in the 90s, I remember hearing news reports about children conceived to provide a bone marrow transplant for an older sibling. I wondered what type of bond would exist between a brother and sister whose lives, quite literally, depended on each other. That thought expanded into what would happen if the older sibling ended up killing someone. I imagined the younger sibling would have to feel a degree of guilt. In that situation, I probably would, as futile and self-destructive as that feeling might be. I also am very interested in vices and thwarted desires. The pyromania germ probably started there.

 

What are your vices?

I’m addicted to tea. Black tea, preferably Darjeeling or English Breakfast. My mother got me hooked at an early age. My dentist always yells at me about the tooth stains.

 

Tea doesn’t count as a vice.

True vices aren’t shared publicly across the Internet. At least not by the person who harbors them. Unless that person is anonymous.

 

Fair enough. You used to live in Brooklyn. Now you live in Manhattan. Which one is better?

I can’t answer that question. It’s like asking a mother to choose between her children. Brooklyn and Manhattan are wonderful in their own distinct ways. I love them equally.

 

On social media, you often use “vegan” as part of your self-description. Explain.

I haven’t consumed animals or products derived from animals in over five years. It’s a personal, ethical decision. I care deeply about the impact I make on the planet and the lives of others, animals and people. Since I’m in a position where I can be informed and have choice, I try not to consume things that have a negative environmental or social effect.

 

If being vegan is such a defining part of who you are, why do your characters eat meat?

Because they’re not me.

 

Last question: have you ever had an imaginary friend?

I don’t remember having one as a kid, but it’s possible. Now, when I’m deep into a piece of writing, I’ll go for long walks and have conversations with my characters in my head—or, when I forget I’m in public, out loud. I guess they’re my imaginary friends.

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Courtney Elizabeth Mauk received an MFA in Fiction from Columbia University and has published in The Literary Review, PANK, Wigleaf, and Superstition Review, among others. She is an assistant editor at Barrelhouse Magazine and teaches at The Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop. She lives in Manhattan with her husband.

Photo Credit: Lauren Slusher

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TNB FICTION is proud to showcase book excerpts and original short fiction from some of the finest writers in the world. Features have included work by Aimee Bender, Dan Chaon, Stuart Dybek, Jennifer Egan, Bret Easton Ellis, Roxane Gay, Etgar Keret, Antonya Nelson, and hundreds of other internationally acclaimed and emerging writers. Spotlighting a recent book release each week, TNB Fiction helps bring awareness of new literary fiction, from both trade and independent publishers, to readers around the world, providing a global, free-access arena for spotlighting the genre in an era of shrinking coverage among mainstream print publications. TNB Fiction has its finger on the pulse of a vibrant new generation of writers, as well as established literary greats whose work continues to shape the future dialogue of literary culture. Fiction Editor Rachael Warecki lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in The Los Angeles Review, The Masters Review, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere, and has received residency invitations from the Wellstone Center and Ragdale. She holds an MFA in Fiction from Antioch University Los Angeles and is currently at work on a novel.

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