“I’ve just never seen a mermaid in Montana.”

10/21/2009 4:00 AM |

L: Your story “Birthday Girl” takes place at the O’Haire Motor Inn in Great Falls, Montana, home of the Sip-N-Dip Lounge–a bar with windows into a pool that features mermaid performances for patrons. And which sounds completely excellent. How did you hear about the place, and did you know right away you wanted to use it in a story?
KC: Ha! I’ve lived in Montana for many years and I couldn’t say when I first heard of the Sip-N-Dip, but it was a long time ago. I had been to the bar before, a few times. But a couple of years ago we stayed there on the night described in the story, a night of deep furious snow and Christmas decorations, and I started to wonder what kind of story I could set there. The strange part–especially given the cover of the book–is that I have never once made it to the bar on a night when they had mermaids. I’ve heard about them. Every grad student who comes through the programs seems to write a story about them. But I have never seen a mermaid.

L: Any plans to go and try to see them? Or are they better as a kind of publicized mystery?
KC: Oh, I’m sure I’ll see them one of these days. There’s not much else to do in Great Falls, and I do seem to get over there once in a while. I should clarify, maybe, and say that I have seen mermaids at Weeki Watchee and also at the late, lamented Aquarena Springs in San Marcos, Texas, home of the diving pig. I’ve just never seen a mermaid in Montana.

L: This is now your sixth published book. When you look back across your professional trajectory, do you see any shifts in your writing, thematically or otherwise? What do you think about what you see?
KC: Funny, I just had a colleague ask me to present a story to her class and she asked for one from the first collection. I read it aloud, read it carefully for the first time in twelve or fourteen years, and it just seemed completely foreign to me. I’m just a different writer now, quieter, more precise but less adventurous. Nothing wrong with either version of myself but I just felt like that story was the work of somebody else entirely, right down to the sentence rhythms. Which of course it was.

L: Did you talk about that at all with the students after you read it to them?
KC: Actually, no, they wanted to talk about the content in a kind of high-school-English-class way. Meaning, you know. I hate meaning!