BY ERIC MARKOWSKY
[This is the first in our series of interviews with authors featured in our anthology of outstanding stories from the web, The Chamber Four Fiction Anthology. You can find more information about the anthology and download it for free here, and you can find all interviews and bonus content here.
Angie Lee is the author of “Eupcaccia,”* which originally appeared in Witness.
The Chickens’ septic system had always been a “ball breaker,” and the way it “worked” had all three of them practicing the ancient art of inhalation and retention before crossing the threshold. Even without the contributions of Mr. Chicken over the last few years, the tank “kept its own way of thinking,” and Mrs. Chicken tried everything (short of liquefying the load before sending it down, and Malchicken had to threaten her with a kitchen knife before she conceded to let go of the blender) to keep the flow moving.
eric: Where did the idea for this story come from?
angie: I guess I need to start out by saying the story is part of a much larger piece/novel that I’ve been working on for a long time. My roommate in art school (who I think is responsible for every great idea I have) told me about the Eupcaccia bug from Kobo Abe’s book. I based the story on the memory of her description. I didn’t actually read the book until after I finished writing the story. I had the name misspelled for years.
eric: So the whole story sort of emerged from that reference to a bug that lives on it’s own feces? What struck you about this image?
angie: Shall I admit to loving poo? Sure, but not in any scatological way. There’s a beauty with the circularity of the bug, the circularity of the whole digestion system, as well as the circularity of the way we as humans watch and analyze (digest) what we produce.
eric: If the title and the image of the Eupcaccia bug preceded the story, how does it fit in to the rest of the longer work you mentioned?
angie: The image of the bug preceded the story, but not the character of Malchicken.
eric: And where does Malchicken come from, the name and the character?
angie: Malchicken is one of several characters in the larger work. They are all misfits of some sort, trying to live some kind of “tagline” free existence. He’s not based on anyone in particular. He’s probably a mixture of a lot of crazy people I went to school with. As for his name, it started out as a play on words, “bad egg.” I guess at one time I thought the character was going to be “bad.”
eric: In what sense?
angie: I think in the sense that he was going to be a troublemaker, but he’s actually not, not in the normal sense of the word “troublemaker.”
eric: Definitely not. Here he’s really funny, even charming in a very unassuming way.
angie: It’s the mom that’s actually disturbing, or the environment that’s actually “bad.”
eric: How did you decide on this setting, this particular trailer park in this particular New Mexico town?
angie: I grew up in Los Alamos, NM. The larger work is set in Los Alamos and Tesuque, geographically 30 minutes drive from each other, worlds apart culturally. I was always fascinated by the name, mostly because I couldn’t pronounce it. For years I thought it was “Tessa Q.”
eric: It’s not?
angie: It’s actually “Tess-ewe-key” (i think) and everything you hear about it is weird. Ask anyone what they think about Los Alamos, and you get some sort of thing about nerds. Ask about Tesuque and you’ll get a bunch of drug dealers, really rich people with tall fences, really poor people, wild dogs, drug dealers with tall fences, wild people with poor dogs, etc.
eric: And how do you see Malchicken fitting into that world (or not fitting into it)?
angie: I think I like the contradiction, the contrast. Malchicken is quite precocious. He’s actually supposed to be bused up to Los Alamos but his mother won’t let him.
eric: Mal’s mother seems like an especially sad character.
angie: Yeah, she’s mean, but in a really sad way.
eric: But Mal seems to thrive despite her restrictions and the environment you’ve been describing in Tesuque. Or at least he entertains himself (and the reader). What do you think makes his perspective different?
angie: The whole idea behind Malchicken’s perspective, and the larger work, comes from another character in the cast named Tommy Laser. He’s sort of the den mother of the longer work, and this is his guiding principle.
According to Tommy, there’s little difference between rocks, Already-Been-Chewed gum, frogs, humans or silicon wafers. Atomic structure does not matter. The only thing that matters in terms of whether something is alive or not is where the thing falls on the Continuum of Consciousness. Consciousness, to Tommy, was all about having some sort of capacity to process information. Consciousness defined what it meant to be alive.
eric: How is work on the larger piece going?
angie: I actually finished a draft last year, and let it rest for awhile. Now I’m pulling it apart so I can reconfigure it and finish it a second time.
eric: Well, I look forward to reading more about Malchicken sometime, and thanks again for talking to us.
angie: Thank you!
*From Kobo Abe’s The Ark Sakura, trans. Juliet Winters Carpenter (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988), 7-8. “[On this] Island (the insect’s native habitat), eupcaccia is the word for clock. Half an inch long, the insect is of the order Coleoptera, and has a stubby black body lined with vertical brown stripes. Its only other distinguishing feature is its lack of legs, those appendages having atrophied because the insect has no need to crawl about in search of food. It thrives on a peculiar diet—its own feces. The idea of ingesting one’s own waste products for nourishment sounds about as ill-advised as trying to start a fire from ashes; the explanation lies, it seems, in the insect’s extremely slow rate of consumption, which allows plenty of time for the replenishment of nutrients by bacterial action. Using its round abdomen as a fulcrum, the eupcaccia pushes itself around counterclockwise with its long, sturdy antennae, eating as it eliminates. As a result, the excrement always lies in a perfect half-circle. It begins ingesting at dawn and ceases at sunset, then sleeps till morning. Since its head always points in the direction of the sun, it also functions as a timepiece.”