“Ursa Minor” has a meandering, dreamlike quality to it, somewhat parallel to the opening moment where Nick wakes up with the dream of the bear. How did this story come about?
Well, that opening scene stemmed from a painting I saw at a college where I taught at last year. I made a note about it in my phone and then couldn’t stop thinking about it. Then a few months ago I was repainting the bathroom door in my house and the story just sort of fell out. By the time the door was done, I had a basic idea of how it would unfold. (Maybe I need to do more house projects ….)
I’m interested in how the women in this story appear in relation to Nick (or men): absent (mother), damaged (sister), weak (woman on street.) How do you see that relationship and interaction?
I hadn’t thought about that and my initial reaction to this question was “Wait, what I have I done?” I almost always write women protagonists—this is the first flash I’ve finished from a man’s point of view. I have a cousin who was seriously injured trying to stop domestic violence, and in many ways this story curls around him. (He used to play Ready, Aim, Fire! with me when we were kids.) I think this is a story about circumstances. About connection and disconnection and how much we need each other.
Nick seems saddled with malaise and the “heft” of his life and not too much of the kind of person who makes things happen. I almost expected him to watch the man beating the woman and walk back inside. What changes for him at the end of the story?
I imagine Nick as profoundly lonely; a “still waters run deep” person. Nick was protective of his sister, and also scared, always watching, pensive. Maybe his brave act comes from the bear in his dream, something deep and primal. Saving this woman is the only way he can save the sister he lost when he was so young.
I have to ask: What are stars for you? Stars or an absence of sky?
I’m going to say stars. They look so tiny and twinkly to us way down here, when really they are massive, angry, popping gasses. That gap between perception and reality feels like a space to think about things less sure, like time and light and distance and how small we are.
Are you into astronomy? What is your favorite constellation, besides the Ursa minor, and can you tell us of a memorable related moment from your own life?
I only really know the classics, but when I think of stars I think about the time we took our son out of the light-polluted suburb we live in to see the Perseid meteor shower from the beach on Block Island. The sky was so much bigger, so much brighter out there.