This interview was conducted and edited by Ashland Creek Press intern Rachel Harris.
Q: What inspired you to write this story?
A: After Hurricane Florence flooded southeastern North Carolina and the factory farmers left the chickens and hogs to either drown or be swept away to fend for themselves, I couldn’t shake the thought of what that must have been like not only for the animals but for the entire community.
Q: What was your writing/research process?
A: The writing process for “Ava” was different from other stories or longer pieces I’ve written before. I got a flash of the animals suddenly appearing on the plates and breaking the table; then I wrote very quickly, in part because of the deadline, but I also think I got lucky. The next story I wrote after “Ava” took me five months to write.
Q: The blurring between reality and magical reality is wonderfully done—what inspired this?
A: I love magical realism and usually have elements of magic in my stories. Coming from a child’s point of view also allows, I think, for more suspension of disbelief. It was so much easier for me to see the world that way as a girl, and I think each year I’ve lost some of that. Weaving magic into my stories helps me connect to the awe and wonder of the world.
Q: Which writers inspire you the most?
A: Elizabeth Strout, Judy Blume, Neil Gaiman, Mary Oliver, Rebecca Stead, J. R. R. Tolkien.
Q: Why did you choose farm animals to focus on?
A: Farm animals suffer enormously in factory farms deliberately built away from us so we cannot see the atrocities. What I’ve learned from spending time with farm animals is that they are so similar to our companion pets. They express joy and sorrow, feel pain, and want to live. One of my favorite examples of that is a chicken named Leo who followed everyone around for FOMO and knew as many words as my toddler.
Q: What do you hope readers will take away from your story?
A: I hope that readers feel hope and see how one person, whether sparked from reality or imagination, can make a difference.
Denise Rettew’s story, “Ava,” appears in Among Animals 3. Denise studied creative writing at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and has been teaching yoga since 2003. She lives in North Carolina near the ocean, where, after twenty years in the area, she is finally breaking away from everyday life and getting her feet on the sand.