An Interview with Luke Rolfes


Could you tell us something about the form of your story, “Choose Your Own Adventure (Dog)”? How did you arrive at that form? How do you want the reader to read the story?

As a kid, I loved the CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE series from Bantam Books. I wanted to try that form as flash fiction. Also, right before I wrote the story, my students had a conversation about how “getting a dog” is a rite of passage for many young people, as the dog’s relatively short lifespan teaches folks about mortality and loss. Anyway, the flash fiction is sort of a warped version of those two ideas. No matter what path the reader takes, the story always ends with the same outcome.

Your novel Sleep Lake— your third book— will be published by Braddock Avenue Books in May. Could you tell us something about the book and how it came to be?

Sleep Lake is a project I worked on for five or six years. It’s kind of hard to define the genre. Literary thriller, tragedy, drama? The narrative picks up at the end of a story from my first collection (Flyover Country). Sleep Lake follows the unraveling of a young couple’s marriage in the wake of an impending and unexpected natural disaster—basically, a dam failure that floods a Midwestern city and brings everyone’s life to a standstill.

Could you tell us something about how you experience the difference between writing short fiction and writing a novel?

When I write short things (flash and traditional short fiction), I try to limit the narrative scope. I am constantly trying to interweave and tie things together. “How can I end this?” is always on my mind. When I write novels, I think about the opposite. I want to follow every thread/breadcrumb to see where it might lead. Questions of ending and scope don’t matter as much. More simply: When I write long form, I think “breathe.” When I write a short form, I think “contract.”

When and how did you know you wanted to be a writer?

In elementary school, I wanted to be a journalist. By the time I arrived at college, that changed into wanting to be a fiction writer, but I worried I didn’t have the self-confidence. After getting rejected a lot, I was surprised I didn’t want to stop writing and sending out work. I suppose that feeling of persistence, more than anything else, made me think this was something I could do.

You also do editorial work for The Laurel Review. Could you talk about the relationship between your editorial work and your writing life?

Being an editor and being a writer, for me, are intrinsically linked. The two experiences reinforce and inform each other. My position at Laurel Review gives me a way to be a part of the literary community in two different ways. A writer I heard talk once coined the term “literary citizen,” and I think about that idea a lot—being a citizen of the literary community. We all depend on each other, in a way.