I like some writerly distance. Well, more than some.
For me, in order to write fiction, it has to feel like science fiction—building a world from thin air, not memory. Recalling real places stops my flow. Of course, memory is at work all the time, but not in a conscious what kind of trees were those? how long was that dock? kind of way.
How does memory work for you? In your reading, your writing?
All that is to say that I’ve never been in an Eagles club (The Fraternal Order of Eagles), though every Rust Belt town has one. Yet, I chose such a club as the setting for a flash fiction piece I wrote, called “Six Places I Have Slept,” published in the spring 2017 issue of DASH Literary Journal.
Also, I’ve never been a man. Yet, I find it freeing to write from the perspective of one—a struggling one, who in later stories, turns rather mean. How to know this character better, I wondered?
How do you get inside the head of a character who is unlike you?
I’d jot one quick list, I told myself, to “get” this man. The result (after much revision):
“Six Places I Have Slept” (an excerpt)
1. A single cot in a storage closet with a bucket and mop. Cut into the foam mattress, shoved six inches deep, is my Army-issue retractable pocket knife, because here is the Eagles club with buddies, not friends. Drink lets us wear the masks of friends for a night. Like paper mache, those masks, fragile. How easily the war stories, jokes, and slaps on the back—the endurance breaks under the weight of memory and shame. Retractable legs make the cot go flat. Prop it against the wall, open the door, and I was never there. If memories were retractable. If shame could be folded away.
I am a long-winded writer (no surprise there), so I don’t write much flash fiction. Still, I liked “Six Places…” enough to send it out and endure the story-submission process. Surprise–major surprise–it got accepted!
4. The edge of my wife’s hospital bed after the birth of our son. A heatwave, no air, and, fully clothed, I clung to the edge. A blade of space separated me from her and him—ruddy and rooting at her breast like a thing. Not a boy yet, not a son, but a tiny vessel to be filled. I hung back. Like, you can’t stand too close to a painting or you see the making of it, the dots and strokes, and not the creation. Sometimes, I think I haven’t caught up yet with my little pack, joined the fold, formed a whole.
So, I was beginning to feel like I “got” this character, who’d helped me get a publication credit. And, I was beginning to feel like maybe I could write more flash.
What’s your favorite form? Long or short? The novel? Short story? Flash?
And then a funny thing happened: DASH editor Irena Praitis let me know that “Six Places I Have Slept” will be nominated for The Pushcart Prize this fall.
6. In my son’s crib, behind the slats like bars. We joked, Daddy in a cage. No joke when you got the croup and bleated like a sea monster, two years old. Cured you with steam from the shower, but you wouldn’t let me in. After, you were not tired, like the buzz of last call, giddy; you finally fell asleep on my chest. Me, curled in a crib, arms around you, listening to your summoned breath like pulling life from black water.
Thank you, DASH!