Leyna Krow's debut short story collection appropriately begins with an "index of things to come." The two-page spread previews both the weirdly fantastical worlds and characters, and the rather routine human behaviors, that readers will encounter throughout the 15 stories of I'm Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking.
There are mentions of libraries on pages 40, 73, 96, 134 and 147-152, and "deliberate movement of small rocks" on pages 69-71 and 73. Other notations direct the reader to musings and references to snakes/serpents, uncomfortable encounters at the grocery store, dead parents, breakfast foods, and "fences (or lack thereof)."
Inside the Rocket Bakery on Garland Avenue, located within walking distance of her home, Krow describes her collection released this month as "domestic fabulism," a term, she adds, that she's borrowed from another writer.
"It's similar to magical realism. There are fabulous and weird things happening in the context of the supernormal, or people in a weird setting who are having a normal problem," Krow explains.
The story "Habitat" follows a brother and sister tasked with cleaning out their childhood home on the Palouse, but the farmland region has been overtaken by an invasive fern that also happens to provide the preferred environment of a certain species of snake. In "Disruption," a California woman constantly has to pick the contents of her kitchen cabinets off the floor because a mysterious button being pressed in Detroit causes them to spill out every day.
A graduate of Eastern Washington University's MFA program in creative writing, Krow wrote about half of the stories for I'm Fine, But You Appear to Be Sinking as part of her thesis. The Southern California native arrived in Spokane from Seattle seven years ago to pursue her creative writing degree, and has since put down roots here, although she says it "has been my intention not to stay, but it's grown on me, and now I really like it."
Krow's past and current residences noticeably influence her work, like that story set on the Palouse, and others in places all along the West Coast. Rather than build her stories around a specific character, Krow prefers to first decide the premise or a setting.
"The characters are built in, and as unlikely as it sounds, the weird premises are based in reality; something that caught my attention and that I tweaked to something far more strange."
She mentions the story "Tiger, Tiger," about a couple who believe that their neighbor is keeping a caged jungle cat in his backyard. It was inspired by a friend telling her that a big-cat sanctuary in her home state of Indiana occasionally takes in exotic cats seized from meth lab properties.
Thematically, Krow's work also revolves around made-up facts.
"I dig animals, science-y stuff and the ocean," she remarks. "And there is something really satisfying about making up scientific facts, so there is a lot of that in the stories — me having fun with ideas that maybe could be true in some universe, but aren't."
Friend and fellow author Sharma Shields refers to this element of Krow's work as "fiction science," rather than science fiction.
"I said, 'That feels right,'" Krow recalls, laughing.
Being a writer in Spokane as the region continues to blossom amid a local writing renaissance has been a hugely positive experience for Krow, whose work was previously published in numerous literary journals before uniting for this collection. She meets monthly with a group of writers who are mostly Eastern Washington MFA grads, but says that even those who didn't go through that program are welcomed with open arms.
"People who are more established in their careers are super accessible, and they are encouraging of people who are up-and-coming, or even those who write casually," she says.
Declining to comment on what she's currently working on because it "derails me," Krow says that she intends to publish long-form fiction in the future, but that short stories will always be a form she enjoys and produces. Novels, she admits, may be the more "commercially successful" fiction format, but ultimately the author follows her own advice to other writers to "write what entertains you."
"If you aren't having fun, you're not going to finish it or do a good job... if someone else wants to read it, lucky for you," she says, adding sarcastically, "There are only, like, five people on Earth who want to read short stories, so you don't want to spend all your time trying to figure out what those five people like." ♦
Reading: Leyna Krow with Aileen Keown Vaux • Fri, Feb. 17 at 7 pm • Free • Auntie's Bookstore • 402 W. Main • auntiesbooks.com • 838-0206