Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with William Todd Seabrook
by Kim Winternheimer Read the Story September 18, 2017
First, I’d love to know where the idea for this story came from.
Believe it or not, the basis of this story is supposedly true. A friend of mine told me the story secondhand, which, take that for what it’s worth, but no writer worth their salt upon hearing a story—true or not—of a man jumping through a carcass of a manatee without realizing it was dead would pass up the opportunity to write about it. So I did.
“Manatees” is only about 250 words. Did you know you were writing such a short piece or did the length surprise you? What challenges did you run into (if any) in writing a story this length?
I enjoy flash and micro fiction stories because the words have nowhere to hide. I find that the craft of writing shines brightest when each sentence, each word, cuts to the heart of the story. I’m an impatient man in general, and I would rather write 250 words that convey precisely what the reader needs to know than write five hundred words that tell the same story with wonderful, but unnecessary, details. Tell the story, and tell nothing else. The challenge in that is that every sentence needs to have multiple operators in it—description, tone, and a sense of time (either past or future) all working together through the story’s action. It came together in “Manatees,” but it doesn’t always work. That is what I look for in good writing, and what I try to practice in my own.
There are elements in “Manatees” that seem like very specific craft choices—the length being one, and also that it is told in the collective voice. Did you begin the story from this point of view, or did that develop in later drafts? In your mind, what does this story achieve by using first-person plural that it would otherwise lack?
Essentially, a plural narrator was more efficient. Originally the story did have a close point-of-view character, but it quickly because a collective consciousness when the story became about how we look at survival and death in the world. A plural narrator comes with a tone—a tone of larger implications and universality—and at the end of the story I wanted the reason for the kids not to be rescuing Linus to be a collective issue, a humanity issue, not an individual one that could be dismissed as personal reason.
There is a moment in the story when the children are watching Linus in the water with one of the manatees. In your mind, is this event literal or magical? I can see it both ways, and both work equally as well.
I wrote the ending as literal, as that is more disturbing to me, and what are writers for if not to disturb ourselves? I find a group of friends calmly watching their friend struggle under water—while taking solace and justification in it—extremely creepy. However, I can see the ending as magical, as well, since the actions of the story are somewhat unbelievable. A magical reading allows a space of reflection and metaphor, one with more whimsy and perhaps less horror.
What are some of your favorite flash fiction pieces?
As I said, I like concision, so some of my favorite flash pieces that come to mind are these:
Mary Robison’s “Yours”
Stuart Dybek’s “Sunday at the Zoo”
David Ordan’s “Any Minute Mom Should Coming Blasting Through the Door”
William Peden’s “The Hatchetman in the Lighthouse”
Steven Schutzman’s “The Bank Robbery”
About the Author:
William Todd Seabrook received his MFA from the University of Colorado, and his PhD from Florida State University. He is the author of four prose chapbooks, and his work has appeared in Phoebe, The Volta, Tin House, Mid-American Review, PANK, CutBank, and Quiddity among others. He is also the editor of Cupboard Pamphlet, a prose chapbook press.
About the Artist:
Alex Hockett's work can be found at Unsplash.