Tucker Leighty-Phillips’ Maybe This is What I Deserve: An Interview

Tucker Leighty-Phillips’ Maybe This is What I Deserve: An Interview

Congratulations to Arizona State University alum Tucker Leighty-Phillips for his upcoming flash fiction chapbook Maybe This is What I Deserve, published by Split/Lip Press. It won the 2022 Split/Lip Chapbook Contest, selected by Isle McElroy. Leighty-Phillips explores themes of childhood innocence, parenthood, and existentialism rooted in everyday life. His collected stories demonstrate compelling prose and unrelenting authenticity delivered with concision.

Each story in Maybe This is What I Deserve is funny or melancholic, sometimes a little bit of both, as seen in the story “Togethering.” Leighty-Phillips’ precise diction layers atmosphere in his succinct tales that gets richer through rereads. Other stories showcase his ability to play with structure and white space, such as in “Another Story” and “The Rumpelstiltskin Understudies,” which makes this collection perfect for readers who want to read something familiar yet refreshing.

With prose that constantly surprises and pleases, Maybe This Is What I Deserve is the kind of flash collection that will make you rethink how you see the world. Beneath the arresting imagery of sweaty mashes of bills and noses flowing like gratitude is the heartbeat of an author equally invested in language as character. These stories shock, they entertain, and they stick in your mind.

Isle McElroy, author of The Atmospherians and People Collide

Tucker Leighty-Phillips is a writer from Southeastern Kentucky. He is the author of Maybe This Is What I Deserve (Split/Lip Press, 2023), and his work has been featured in Adroit Journal, The Offing, Passages North, and elsewhere. Find him on Twitter at @thenurtureboy and on his website.

I love Tucker Leighty-Phillips’s wild imagination, his privileging of the emotions of childhood, his ability to find the magic that’s ever-present in the messiness of community. In Maybe This Is What I Deserve, Leighty-Phillips delivers us a surrealism suffused with joy and generosity and wit, grounded in sincere love for Kentucky and for the irrepressible potential of its people.

Matt Bell, author of Appleseed

Maybe This is What I Deserve releases June 20th, 2023. You can pre-order it here.

We had the pleasure of interviewing Tucker Leighty-Phillips about his book and writing process. This interview was conducted over email by our Blog Editor, Antonio Folcarelli.

Antonio Folcarelli: Many of the stories in Maybe This is What I Deserve speak to childhood and parenthood. What inspired you to write from these perspectives?

Tucker Leighty-Phillips: I grew up in a primarily single-parent household, and a lot of my childhood experience was filtered through that. Having one parent meant our household only had one income, and one person to raise myself and my sisters. It was a tremendous task, and my mom really worked hard to ensure we were safe, fed, and happy. I think a lot of these stories are a means of processing what that was like for me, now that I’m older and can differentiate my childhood from other people’s childhoods, and these stories are also a space to explore what that experience must have been like for her. When you’re a kid, especially one in a low-income household, you don’t realize all the structural factors working against you, or the systems meant to help that aren’t helpful. I wanted to try to revisit some of those situations from a new point-of-view, particularly that of the parent. 

AF: One quote the collection opens with is by film director, producer, and screenwriter Wong Kar-Wai:
“One’s memories aren’t what actually happened—they’re very subjective. You can always make it much better.” Why did you choose this quote?

TLP: Many of the stories in here are autobiographical, at least partially, even in some small way, and I think many of these stories invoke memories for me. I liked having a reminder to myself that each story, and each memory embedded within the story, is an attempted reconstruction of whatever my experience was. Sometimes I’ve benefited from hindsight, and sometimes that hindsight has frustrated or upset me. I wanted this collection to be a space of thoughtful nostalgia–not one that simply yearns for another time, but interrogates it. 

AF: What challenges did you face in layering humor, intimacy, and poignancy in flash fiction? How do you keep emotional depth concise?

TLP: Great question! I’ve always kind of grappled with this. I want to be serious, but not melodramatic. I want to be playful, but not flippant. It’s a game of fine margins in that way. I am trying to navigate how much humor will help accurately portray the heart of the thing I’m writing about. Sometimes, a punchline helps alleviate some of the tension of whatever I’m exploring in a story, and gives me a sense of positive emotional reflection. Sometimes, it doesn’t, and feels like it takes away. That’s why stories like “Groceries” or “Toddy’s Got Lice Again” are in there–they are stories about feelings that I really want to be earnest about, and felt that humor took away from that earnestness. I don’t always get that emotional tenor right, but it’s always being tweaked.

AF: What works or authors do you turn to for inspiration?

TLP: I think it depends on the day, my mood, and what project I’m working on. For MTIWID, my primary inspirations were people like Deb Olin Unferth, Lucy Corin, Ana María Shua, Meredith Alling, Ross Gay, Zachary Schomburg, and Louis Sachar. But I also have a lot of non-literary influences that always shine through in my work. The Adventures of Pete & Pete is a big one–it was a television show that really made the mundane aspects of rural/suburban life feel really expansive and fantastical. I also really love cartoons and the narrative logic that exists within them–Looney Tunes, Scooby Doo, Courage the Cowardly Dog. I always try to let my writing create its own internal logic, and I do my best to let it guide me. 

AF: The story “Stages of Grief” was co-written with Rachel Reeher. How did collaboration affect your writing process?

TLP: Every single collaborative project is different, depending on the partnership, the process, the medium–so each one kind of shifts my perspective on how collaborative work is done. Rachel and I are a couple, so there’s a lot of trust already instilled between one another. I had an idea, but wasn’t sure how to go about it, and she helped bring a lot of the idea into tangible language. Technically, there’s one other collaborative project in the collection–”The Rumpelstiltskin Understudies (play)” uses a drawing made by my then-eleven year old sister. I didn’t tell her what I was working on or how it fit into the narrative, but she trusted me and made something that really expanded the story. 

AF: What projects are you working on now?

TLP: I’m a little scattered, but I will mention the thing that is the furthest along–especially since it relates to the prior question. I’m currently working on a collaborative anthology, where each writer contributed a fiction piece based on a prompt, but didn’t know what anyone else was working on, and ultimately created a vast, innovative, sometimes contradictory worldbuilding project. The title is still TBD but it’s in the final editing stages now! 

This is an author’s photo of Robin Gow. He is white and has a shaved head. They are wearing a star-covered black dress and black-rimmed glasses. They have butterfly wing earrings and a studded collar.

Pride Community Project Episode Three: Claire van Doren Interviews Robin Gow

Superstition Review is excited to share a podcast project planned and produced by SR intern Claire van Doren. In this four-episode audio series, Claire will be talking with SR’s queer contributors. In today’s episode, Claire interviews Robin Gow (they/ze/he). They are the author of a number of chapbooks and novels for young readers, many of them forthcoming in 2023. Their works include Honeysuckle  at Finishing Line Press, Backyard Paleontology at Glass Poetry (Forthcoming 2023), and A Museum for That Which No Longer Exists at Alternating Current Press (Forthcoming 2023), A Million Quiet RevolutionsOde to My First Car (forthcoming 2023), and others. They are the managing editor of The Nasiona. To learn more, visit his website.

The following transcript has been edited for clarity. Credit goes to FreeSound.org for the sound effects.

Claire van Doren: Hi! My name’s Claire van Doren, and you’re listening to the Superstition Review Pride Community Project. Today, we’ll be hearing from Robin Gow. They’ll be discussing their experiences with the queer community and how it impacts their work. This is one of four Pride Community specials. Stick around to hear from more of Superstition Review’s queer contributors.

[Phone ringing]

Robin Gow: My name is Robin Gow, and I use any pronouns but she. I’ve worked in a lot of different genres: I do poetry, young adult and middle-grade books, and kind of hybrid essay work, too. I think of myself as a very hybrid writer, and I think that’s because the way my brain works and the experience I’ve had as a trans person don’t fit neatly into things. My narratives are very messy. I turn often to poetry because poetry is very forgiving of strangeness and welcoming toward narratives that break apart and fracture and that kind of thing.

But I’m trying to find that space in fiction and essay, too. I definitely think that it influences me in that way. Like every non-binary person, that kind of translates into having non-binary impulses in genre. Like, I don’t totally believe in genre. I think having that knowledge about myself as “between” a lot of things has definitely affected me and my writing.

I like to think of my poems as mini-conservations that I can start with someone else. There’s this essay by Frank O’Hara, where he talks about a poem as squarely between himself and another person. And I guess I think of my poetry like that. I always want it to be in conversation. Or, if not in conversation, then maybe a letter to someone. I think that I’m often writing towards a community because I feel like the word community is really complex, and the spectrum of people so diverse as LGBTQ+ people. And I see that in my work at the LGBTQ+ Center—working in social services in general. It makes me very interested in the small, beautiful intricacies of peoples’ lives—because a lot of the work that I do is creating programs and space for queer people. And I think I’ve just learned a lot about community and its expansiveness.

I think it often motivates me a lot in terms of my more narrative work—like the young adult fiction I write. But I think that it impacts my poetry, too. I guess that it motivates me, it makes me more interested in creating, because I know that there is contact with the community that I write for. Because I feel that I write primarily for other queer people.

It makes me go back to high school and some of the books I read that really sparked my interest in literature as a whole. And I think that I had a long period of reading a lot of stories in the magical realism genre. Specifically I read 100 Years of Solitude alone in high school, and I think there’s so much I didn’t get because I was a high schooler. I didn’t get the global context that Gabriel García Márquez is writing in.

The ways in which writers of that movement are writing into complete strangeness in day-to-day life has always affected me. Because I think reading that work in high school had a lot of impact on me. And it’s interesting, then—at the same time I was reading that, I was also watching a lot of anime. Which I think sounds funny as a huge influence, but I think it had a huge influence on me because anime is very fantastical. There’s a lot of questions of what it means to be a person in the world that are addressed in some of the animes I really like.

And then more lately, I just other queer writers—like Jos Charles’ book Feeld is very influential. I wish it could influence me more because it’s just so brilliant. And then I think also, currently, I’m really into horror—because I feel like, in current cinema, that’s a place where people are committed to being really weird. And I think I’m just really fascinated by that. That’s also something that I think influences my work.

As a trans person, and also as someone who’s neurodivergent, who experiences the world in some strange ways, I think that that has always drawn me into thinking about where an image or something can spin off into something bigger than the mundane. Especially religious imagery. Because I was raised very Catholic, I had a lot of negative experiences with religion, especially as a queer and trans person. But I’m so fascinated by it. I’ve taken a lot of personal interest in saints and the ritual around Catholicism. Something I was always intrigued by is that the bread that they have actually transforms into Jesus’s body. They don’t believe it’s a symbol; they believe it’s an actual transformation. I think that that’s kind of sparked an interest in me, where the mundane goes into the magical in the day-to-day world. I find an interest in where day-to-day life can slip into something surreal or something absurd. But it’s still out of respect for mundane life or interest in it, too.

I want to write toward younger people. I think that, a lot of times, writers are against writing for youth. And I actually think that—when I think about the books that impacted me the most–it’s the things that I read when I was younger. So I’m trying to write towards—or in solidarity with—queer youth. And I hope that my writing can create some of those conversations.

And then I’m also interested in exploring a hybrid fiction novel. It’s hard because I write in very strange genre formations, but I guess what I’m trying to achieve in the future is not letting that baggage I have about genre influence me creating something.

Because if I don’t finish it, then it will never be a thing, you know?

[Phone hangs up]

CVD: Thanks for joining us! Be sure to check out our YouTube page for more audio and video content, as well as our official Superstition Review blog.