When I was Anita’s age, I remember catching my landlord’s son on the garage roof, looking into my bedroom window. I assumed he was just replacing asbestos tiles. Thanks for setting me straight. At what point do boy children become conniving smutbeasts?
Good question. I imagine little boys probably become conniving smutbeasts the moment they are given the opportunity. I don’t think that little boys, however, are doing anything other than satisfying their curiosity. But who knows? Of course, it’s up to the minds of the readers, and my hope is that there will be as many variations as there are readers!
I can see these children: Anita, a little prissy and preternaturally adult; Marlon, quiet and probably slyer than the others realize. How do you choose your character names?
These characters are all recurring characters from other stories. Marlon is certainly quiet and generally the brains behind any operation these kids have going on. Marlon thinks macro while the rest fuel their deviancy with base desires and spiritual dysfunction. Names nearly always go by feel and synesthesia. Anita is a yellow name, and Marlon is indigo. These colors have nothing to do with the story other than to fit a certain color scheme, in the same way that one might choose the color of a tie.
The third intruder in Frankie’s story-within-the-story is never even described as a person—merely a “belly wound.” Are you making a statement with this story—or, rather, with Frankie’s story as well as with “Belly”—about the distinction between the person and the body?
Sure. It seems to me that people care very little when they see a wounded person in a story—we’re desensitized to that. But if the person is identified by the injury, the reader has no other option than to identify with the injury itself.
“Belly” is a story about the power of imagination. Tell me about a time when, as an adult, you were able to make something extraordinary from limited information.
I’m not sure if this counts, but a couple years ago I was at the bank getting replacement checks. One thing led to another, and the banker and I got to talking about robberies and the vault. Soon enough, she told me about what types of metal were used in the vault, what sorts of corrosives might work on the metal, times of the day when escape would be easiest, and the relative ease of such an operation. It was casual conversation, and certainly a strange pocket of white privilege, but eventually, the weight of the conversation began to take effect, and soon enough it became quite difficult to impersonate a simple person ordering new checks. I couldn’t get out of there fast enough.
You employ great economy here. How do you know when a story is finished?
This is all pure feel. There is a certain feeling of words coming out of your fingertips, and when your fingers slow down, then the story is finished. It’s similar to the moment when you put a piece of exposed photographic paper into the developer and the image appears. At that moment, you put it in the stop bath before the image burns too deep. But the truth is that I don’t really know the answer unless it’s happening. The mood and mental framework of writing anything is so dramatically different than when I’m not writing that I often have very little access to the actual craft and often even details of a story unless I am in that writing moment.