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Interview: James Patrick Kelly on “Oneness: A Triptych”

– Tell us a bit about “Oneness: A Triptych.”

I wrote it as three separate flash fiction pieces over the course of several years, first “Tryst,” then “Trick” and finally “Test.”  I submitted “Tryst” to Gordon and he suggested the idea of expanding it into a triptych.  It took me a while to make it happen.  Even though these are three different stories, I tried to link them thematically and to put my two characters through analogous but escalating relationships.


– What was the inspiration for this story, or what prompted you to write it?

I’ve taught writing at a variety of venues, most notably at the Stonecoast Creative Writing MFA Program < > and theClarion <> and Clarion West <> Writing Workshops.  These gigs usually last a week or so.  On occasion, I like to give my students what I call my “Flash Fiction Challenge.” Everyone in the workshop writes a story of approximately 1000 words – myself included – over the course of a couple of days and then submits their stories to the group anonymously.  On the day of the Challenge we workshop all of these new stories, with each workshopper addressing the strengths and weaknesses of each piece.  When it comes time for you to discuss the story you’ve written (and which nobody knows you’ve written!) you offer a critique as if it were written by someone else.  After all the stories have been critiqued, the workshoppers guess who wrote which stories.  There are two winners of the Challenge: the Sherlock, that workshopper/detective who most accurately deduces who wrote which story and the Loki, the author/shapeshifter who fools the most workshoppers.   It’s a fun and pedagogically rich exercise, although I must confess that I’ve never won either prize playing my own Challenge!  I have, however, got three stories out of the Challenge.  After I wrote “Tryst” I decided I would write another piece for the triptych whenever I played.


– Was this story personal to you in any way?  If so, how?

It’s not easy to write about sex, if for no other reason than that it’s embarrassing.  Readers may be tempted to map characters and actions onto the author – don’t!  Stop it right now!  But what makes one uncomfortable is often most worth exploring.


– What might you want a reader to take away from this story?

I hoped to write about sex as a metaphor for achieving a kind of oneness.   In the first story, oneness is achieved by a physical act, in the second, the oneness escalates into a more radical union and the third offers a kind of transcendent oneness, far removed from sex and yet more intimate.


– What are you working on now? 

I’ve just finished a new full length novel, my first in a long time.  Currently it’s called MOTHERSHIP; I’m soliciting comments from a few selected readers before I submit it for publication.


– Anything else you’d like to add?

I first published in F&SF in 1978 and I credit long time editor Edward Ferman with discovering me.  I’ve sold to every F&SF editor since except for Mr. Finlay (your turn is coming, Charlie!) — eighteen stories in all.  I hope to keep appearing in these pages as for as long as I continue typing.  I’d especially like to thank my friend Gordon Van Gelder for this story and salute him for preserving F&SF’s tradition of literary excellence over the last two (almost) decades.

“Oneness: A Triptych” appears in the July/August 2015 issue of F&SF, which you can order here:


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