Q&A With Author Matthew Salesses

A swimmingly excellent novel.

I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying is a new novel in flash fiction by Matthew Salesses.

In 115 chapters, all shorter than a page and some as short as five lines of text, Salesses details a man’s life that is simultaneously falling apart and coming together.

A boy who is apparently his moves in with him after the mother passes away. Yet the man continues to juggle two affairs on the side while maintaining a passable relationship with “the wifely woman.” Meanwhile, his career advances, with no discernible effort on his part.

Possibly medicated (prescribed and otherwise) into ambivalence, the narrator puts in appearances where and when necessary most of the time, trying to stave off the genuine pain that comes from true engagement. And yet, by taking his poison a thimbleful at a time, the bite eventually seeps in and both the narrator and the reader come to an understanding about his place in the world.

Salesses is a husband and a father. His writing has been published widely. Recently, he took the time to share some thoughts about I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying with GR.


1) Is it harder or easier to write against type? I can tell you’re a nice guy and a good dad, so what is it like to write about a man who is ambivalent about relationships and fatherhood?

I’m not sure whether it’s harder or easier, in general. It’s harder for me to make up someone than to use myself as a character. One thing I like about nonfiction is that I don’t have to worry about how to create fully rounded characters; I only have to worry about how to represent people/myself as fully rounded.

The reason to choose fiction over nonfiction is to get at a truth that can’t be gotten at, or can’t be presented, as convincingly in an essay. Which means that in fiction I’m often writing against type, because I want to tell a story, and I don’t generally make a lot of interesting things happen in real life.

In this book, that choice meant using the voice of someone more directly conflicted than I am. I could have written nonfiction about my own fear of commitment, but it wouldn’t have been as interesting or convincing (coming from a married man with a daughter) as the story of this narrator, who is deeply afraid and makes choices out of that fear.

I guess to answer the question, it would have been harder to write this particular story if the narrator was nicer and a better dad.

I’ve never actually seen an Easy-Bake Oven, but I love the myth of it.

2) Flash fiction. Here to stay as a viable format, or something that, in the future, will date all work to 201X?

Here since at least Kafka, or maybe oral myths, and here to stay.

Also, I remember teachers telling me in undergrad to write fiction that is timeless and would last because it couldn’t be dated. I don’t think I believe that, now. I like fiction that represents a particular time and place, whether that’s Homer’s Greece or our present, and I don’t think that timeliness prohibits something from being timeless.

3) How and when did you determine that your narrator wouldn’t have a name? Was it a conscious decision or did you put it off and then realize he didn’t need one?

I don’t name a character, especially a narrator, unless I have to. If you call a character, “Mom,” then the reader brings up an immediate image (for good or bad), but if you call her Alice, the associations aren’t as evocative or useful–at least until you make her Alice.

4) Regarding the cover art, what were the circumstances that you first saw it? Does a fish on a line symbolize the narrator’s life? He’s thinks he’s somewhat free, swimming in the air, and yet he’s really caught?

I found the cover art years ago, and years before I started this book. I was looking for a cover for the magazine I edited then, Redivider. The image has stuck with me–partly because it tells a story of its own. There is a symbolism to it in the context of the image itself–the kite-fish is pretty clearly a symbol in the drawing.

Why I think it works as a cover for this book is that the association can be made between the story told by the cover and the story told by the novel. That is (I hope), it multiplies the associations and symbolism in a way. I wouldn’t want to say it means something in particular.

5) What are your favorite toys?

The Easy-Bake Oven–I’ve never actually seen one, but I love the myth of it. I love people’s reactions when it comes up in conversation.

My favorite toys as a kid were sticks and the bullet shells my friend and I used to find in the sand dunes behind his house. A toy is just something you make into play.