When writing a story to remember (or forget) a character’s life, confining the details to short fiction can either be hindering (because of a lack of space) or a relief (because it allows you to focus in on the highlights). Can you share how you chose to include the details you did about the character’s life?
In my experience with family members who’ve suffered from neurodegenerative diseases, every memory matters—small and big. So, in this story, I imagined a man attempting to hold onto everything he can, from the mundane (a deli, a drugstore, a barbershop) to the most meaningful (his wife, his kids, his grandkids, himself).
I’m always intrigued by point of view choices. In this piece, there is a certain level of unreliability paired with a protagonist who distances himself from the narrative in many ways. The narrative begins with some typical beach scenes, but then focuses a bit more closely on his family life. What can you tell us about this POV choice and what it reveals to us about the story or the character?
The use of second person is a function of a character essentially speaking with himself as he attempts to reaffirm the places, people, and things he encounters both in the moment and in his recollection. His focus, as you point out, begins with a typical beach scene, moves to the places he passed in his wandering, and then to his friends and family before returning to that beach scene, which provides him with a perspective he hopes to maintain but knows may be fleeting.
Stepping away from the story and your work, what work or author do you think is underappreciated? Why do you like it/them so much and why should others read it/them?
Carson McCullers comes to mind as an author who has yet to receive the full credit her work warrants. I was familiar with her first novel, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, but not her third, The Member of the Wedding, until I took a grad class taught by Antonya Nelson, who also asked us to read (or reread, as was the case for most of us) Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. The similarities between the two novels are undeniable, and, since the publication of McCullers’ novel in 1946 predates Lee’s by fourteen years, it’s difficult to see To Kill a Mockingbird, a childhood favorite of mine, in the same light I once did. More than just an exercise in textual comparisons, though, I would recommend reading any of McCullers’ prose for its attention to place, character development, and deep emotional resonance.
Coming back to the theme of the work a bit, one of the things beyond close personal relationships one might most miss when experiencing memory loss is their travels. If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would you go and why?
Wow! After a year without much travel outside of my immediate area, there are so many places I’d like to visit (or revisit), but New Zealand still tops my list. I’ve never been there, but if photos, film, and the personal accounts of family and friends who’ve either visited or lived there are any indication, it’s one of the more beautiful places on earth.
Finally, the last year or so has brought many changes to all of our worlds—big and small. What has changed for you as a writer during that time—habits, practices, mindsets, etc.?
Like most of us, especially those with young families, I’ve had to be flexible with when and where I write, but, more than anything, the circumstances of the last year have made me more introspective and reflective. I think often of that moment in the pandemic when we were all on lockdown and time slowed almost to the point of pausing—when the country two-lane that fronts my home no longer rattled with log trucks and tractors; when the sky, free of contrails, turned a darker blue; when, for the first time in years, I had adequate space to fully consider my relationship with myself, my family, and the wider world. The last year has presented plenty of concerns and challenges for all of us, but, in my experience, it has also offered uncommon clarity. Like the character in my story, I hope to give some permanence to that newfound perspective, not only as a writer but also as a human being, by pressing those memories in my mind.