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Katie Cortese’s stories and essays have appeared in such journals as Blackbird, Gulf Coast, Day One, and elsewhere, including the Rose Metal Press anthology Family Resemblance: An Anthology and Exploration of 8 Hybrid Literary Genres. She holds a PhD from Florida State University and an MFA from Arizona State University. In addition to serving as the fiction editor for Iron Horse Literary Review, she teaches in the creative writing program at Texas Tech University in Lubbock, where she lives with her husband, son, and two tiny dogs.

Additionally, Katie is a former editor-in-chief of The Southeast Review!

Her book, Girl Power and Other Short-Short Stories, is available from ELJ Publications, Amazon, and Small Press Distribution.

Let me begin by saying, I absolutely love the title of your collection, Girl Power and Other Short-Short Stories, and the collection itself. Such a title engenders within a reader certain expectations, that this collection is a storehouse of Feminism and the stories are emblematic of the idea of girl power even in the pieces where the girls and women don’t seem to have much agency themselves. Could you elaborate on the different manifestations of girl power that exist within this collection? Why was it important for these girls/women to be portrayed in these many ways?

Thanks so much. I’m glad the title resonates with you. I should probably say first that I wasn’t aware I was writing a book about women or feminism from the start. I’ve never been able to start with an idea or a political message and wring a story out of it. The characters have to come first and it’s only after they’ve “cooled off” for me—after I’m able to become the story’s reader—that I can see what the larger implications of a piece might be. This collection started out as individual, unrelated stories, and they were written over an eleven-year period. It wasn’t until I sat down with a list of the titles to see if I had the makings of a book that I realized the great majority featured female narrators across a variety of ages and experiences. Once I saw that pattern, I started thinking about what the pieces had in common besides the gender of the protagonists, and it was then that the story “Girl Power” started to seem like a focal point.

Now that I have some perspective on the stories, I can see the way feminism is one of the book’s subjects, and I can readily admit that not all of the stories present a traditional view of feminism. “Run All Day, Run All Night” comes to mind, in which a college student spends her nights scamming older rich men for free drinks and ends up being propositioned. She doesn’t immediately say no, either, even though I think that particular character would profess to being a feminist if someone asked her point blank. One of the reasons I wanted “Girl Power” in the book’s title is because I think that feminism is often so misunderstood today, especially, unfortunately, by younger women who don’t always recognize the ways their mothers and grandmothers and great-grandmothers fought desperately to secure the rights we now take for granted (and thank goodness that so many of our freedoms now seem commonplace—voting and owning property, working in any profession we choose, and—unless certain throwback politicians have their way in the next election cycle—making important, personal, and private decisions about our own health, reproductive and otherwise).

Anyway, the media often present feminism as a very narrow movement. Last year an article made the rounds about a Tumblr called “I Don’t Need Feminism Because…” It’s mostly young women holding up signs that say things like, “I don’t need feminism because men matter too,” or “I don’t need feminism because I can fight my own battles,” and much of their reasoning suggests women can’t be stay-at-home moms and feminists at the same time—which is patently false, or that the movement is about bra-burning, refusing to shave, and hating, blaming, and shunning men. While I still don’t follow most of their logic (and find it uninformed and reductive), what became clear to me after reading it was that even if they were rejecting whatever they understood to be feminism, each poster was still claiming and exercising a version of agency. Some of the women in Girl Power and Other Short-Short Stories probably wouldn’t identify as feminist—the wife in “Camping Christopher Creek,” for instance, who only begins to examine her own situation after meeting a new sister-in-law who doesn’t modify her behavior to please her husband. When I was putting the book together, I didn’t want to present only one “right” way to be a woman in the contemporary era, because a too-monochronistic view would be just as restricting in its own way as the systemic oppression that still operates today (street harassment, say, or like the woman at the DMV who issued my husband’s license immediately, but would only issue mine after I produced my marriage license, which shows I kept my maiden name). So while some of the women and girls in the collection actively seek empowerment, or at least recognize the ways in which they’re being held back from it, even those who lack agency in the moments where we glimpse them have to come face-to-face with that systemic inequality and make decisions in response to it. Sometimes those decisions take the path of least resistance, but in every case the women have to examine those structures and locate their place within them.

The stories in your collection are placed under the trifecta of either “Maidenhood” or “Motherhood” or “Matronhood.” How did you come to divvy up your stories within this triumvirate?

When I sat down with that list of titles and thought about what held the stories together aside from gender, I looked for other ways to arrange them that would produce a satisfying arc. What I came up with was chronology, and at the time that I started dividing the stories I just put all the kid ones first, then the teens, then the young adults, the newlyweds, parents, married couples, and wrapped up with the “real adults”—middle-aged women. I didn’t come up with the names for the sections, though, until I stumbled on the idea of the Triple Goddess Archetype, which is a concept in Neopaganism that refers to the three phases of a woman’s life. The sections were actually Maiden, Mother, and Crone in an earlier draft of the book, but I didn’t like the connotations of the word “crone,” which didn’t really fit the stories I’d placed in that section.

I mentioned earlier that most of the women who participate in the “I Don’t Need Feminism Because…” meme are young, or appear to be in their pictures. They’re still forming their identities, and there’s still time for a young person to drastically change his or her position on pretty much everything. That’s probably why the lion’s share of the stories in Girl Power feature teenagers or young adults. The experiences they have in the stories are ones that I imagine will change their lives and opinions going forward—for better or worse.

OK, so when did you realize you were writing a collection that spanned whole lives of women?

Well, I started writing these stories in 2004, though I was only writing one or two pieces a year at first, and thought of them as completely separate. I wrote most of them between 2012 and 2014, and that’s the same time period when I built my website and had to list out all the stories there with links. I think that’s when it hit me, sometime around 2013, that almost every piece of flash fiction I’d published focused on the life of an individual woman or girl. I was working on a novel then (which is still in progress), and applying for teaching jobs, so I couldn’t pause to assemble the collection until October or so of 2013, and that’s when I started playing w