Seriously, what a cool story. The structure is simplistic and the subject is fantastic, but the tale itself has clever, well-presented, emotionally resonant elements, and (for me at least) becomes something quite touching and real. In your writing process, what sorts of techniques or practices do you use to so effectively marry the “weird”/ fantastic with well-grounded, easily relatable moments and circumstances?
Honestly, I pillaged my real life pretty mercilessly. After my wife read this she said, “So you want me to die giving birth to a pumpkin?”
Of course, I made up most of it, but a handful of the things are True, and once a writer is willing to put a little True on the page—without flinching—it becomes that much easier to make the rest feel true. It helps you find that place of naked ambivalence that’s the core of lived experience. At least for me . . . I guess there are maybe people in the world who can look at their lives without ambivalence.
I love when the main character carves up the pumpkin-son and it just doesn’t quite turn out how he thinks it should. This is almost always the case with carving pumpkins, so it has the weight of the probable; but it also feels like a powerful metaphor. Am I reading too much into this? Or do you see this moment as pregnant (yes, I went there) with meaning, and what does it mean to you?
My dad used to sit me down at the kitchen table so he could tutor me in math and science. He never understood how I couldn’t grasp concepts, which immediately created some friction. I also had a habit of jumping to conclusions (a very writerly trait, I think: looking at a problem and trying to intuit all the ways it might work out) and skipping all those fiddly, important intermediary steps. It drove him nuts.
He had very specific ideas about the kind of person he wanted me to be, and I know, even at the stage where I’m only considering having children, that I have very specific ideas about the kind of person I want my child to be. I like to think that my ideas are qualitatively different than my own father’s, and somehow better. Obviously, though, it is not so easy to shape our children, or know exactly what impact our actions will have on them.
Beyond that, though, I think it’s a metaphor for creative processes in general. We sit down with our tools and our hopes, but it doesn’t always work out.
This piece is full of surprises and frank, unsettling images, which is part of what makes it so effective. To me, it never goes too far or becomes gratuitous. What, for you, are the benefits and the hazards, or perhaps the challenges, of surprise and shock?
In a short story, visceral imagery can be a great tool. Short stories don’t give the writer a lot of time to work a wedge into the reader’s brain so you can split it open and fiddle around inside. A solid visceral image is a very fast, effective way to do that. Reading is often portrayed as an intellectual activity, but it can also be very bodily. Nothing reminds people of that, or grounds them in their bodies and short-wires the defenses that separate mind from body, quite like a little body horror.
It is risky, though. Go about it the wrong way, fail to understand the nature or consequences of the violence you’re doing, fall into the trap of paying pornographic attention to the violence, and your wedge becomes a wall the reader will just bounce right off.
A lot of works, movies in particular, have a real affection for violence. Sometimes that’s okay, especially in something that’s making a commentary or exploring a certain type of humor. But in a lot of work, you see an affection for the suffering of others, reveling in the specific ways and means by which people are hurt and killed. I dislike that. So if I’m not being gratuitous, then I’m succeeding at what I set out to do, which is to grab the reader and ground them in their body, not to titillate or excite.
Is there anything else you want to people to know about this piece? What are you working on now that we can look forward to?
Right now, I’m working on a novel. I don’t have anything else in the pipeline at the moment, aside from those few hundred pages of very rough draft.
Spread the word!