“Desire twisted me inside a damp wood, caught me up the way fires do even the greenest twigs, how they smolder, how fire spreads, turns, switches back, and re-burns.” I love how the sentences in this piece twist, switch back, reburn. Tell us all you can about the language and sentences and voice for this piece, from where they came, how they imposed themselves on you and “Campfire.”
Voice is all; everything lives and breathes and reaches its zenith with voice. No voice, no story. Language and cadence and sentences and fragments all illustrate voice, flow from voice. For me, the interplay there can’t be separated. Two rills flow into a brook and then move forward. Voice and animation of that voice are one. Ninety percent of my writing shakes out this way. I love cadence; I live in it. I am half-aware of instances when I twist normal phrases to impact the story beyond sentence structure. The rest of the time I’m sleepwalking.
I can’t pinpoint where my language and sentences and their cadences come from, but I know they are me, and mine. Does this make sense? I have my own style, my own Donna Vitucci voice. But where it comes from? Some jagged, mysterious way in which the world threads through me.
With “Campfire,” as with almost everything else I write, there is an atmosphere I try to capture. I don’t know where it’s headed or why or what the story aims to be, IF there even is a story. It begins in this place in the woods, as familiar to me as sleep, and it has everything to do with intimacy. It creates its own life, creates a haven for itself and in that haven it conjures mystery and smoke and fidgeting and fear of the dark and curiosity and daring. The “it” refers to the atmosphere. On the face of things there’s bravado and bragging and self possession. And what’s underneath is a slow burn, dangerous, unseen, the scariest kind of fire that can flame up.
I spent a lot of time in those woods as a girl and as a teenager. With not one lit match.
“The boys I loved unraveled me.” Oh, I love this. It feels so central to “Campfire.” Is it? What do you make of it?
Gosh, thanks Randall. When you’re a sixteen-year-old girl, boys are central to everything. Yes, boys and the way they manage to unravel us girls is very central to “Campfire.” Boys exist at the center of the white hot flame, and they intend to burn us up.
To me, “Campfire,” besides the what of the plot, is just as much about the journey to self, self discovery, self-definition, the way adolescents, especially, define themselves through relationships. All our adult lives we strive to make “I/me” independent and autonomous, forming our opinions and likes and dislikes, and then standing up for those opinions when challenged. “This is what I believe, this is what I stand for, blahblahblah.” We make ourselves who we are through sheer force of will and layers of experience. At 16, we are inexperienced, we are fetal, really, still so unformed and malleable, unable to stand alone, we don’t want to draw attention, we want to blend in with the crowd, we want to get as deep into somebody else as we can because that’s where we hope we’ll find out who we are. Somebody please tell, please show us. That’s the liquid and tempting place our narrator inhabits.
What do you wish for your narrator? If you could go inside this moment and talk to her, what would you say? What would her response be?
With everything she says and does, she insists she’s not so beholden, she will not be marked by things that should mark her, she cares so very little—or seems to care little—for how she is used and how she uses, but ya know, that’s a lot of bravado speaking there, what teens put forth to survive. If I could talk to her, I’d ask her to ease up her judgment of herself. To let her know all which looms so large and important to her now will seem like such small potatoes in retrospect. But she wouldn’t listen to me, just like I didn’t listen to my mom. One of those hard lessons nobody can teach you: The green twig must burn, must burn because without burning there’s no yearning, no loving, no learning, no hardening, no bark.
What were you like at sixteen? (Just a few years ago, yes?) What’s left of that sixteen-year-old? What do you miss most of her, and her of you?
Again, thank you. (she blushes)
My adolescent self: Little Miss Goody Two Shoes with a brain full of lust and longing. What’s left? Well, the lust and the longing never leave, do they?
Of my 16 year old self, I most miss her innocence and that full tablecloth spread out before her, life one big picnic if she so chooses. Really, I didn’t know a damned thing at 16. When I wasn’t bussing tables at Mr. Jim’s Steakhouse 5 nights a week, I was mostly listening to Don McLean and Elton John albums in my darkened bedroom, but for one candle glowing, writing tortured journal entries and drippy-bad poetry, and wishing a boy, any boy, would call me. Pitiful, huh?
Begin this answer with the words, “I write.” Complete the sentence. Then, write as many sentences as you’d like, each one beginning with that “I write….”
I write what comes into my head that sounds good or has the potential of sounding good, and then I chop it up and squish it and push it around and compress it like Play-Doh til it makes me happy. And yeah sound has a lot to do with it—cadence again.
I write every day.
I write in the face of rejection and turndown, and poor feedback and disinterest from many sides, including my most loved ones.
I write by mining my past, or re-imagining other person’s lives from whom I steal stories (sorry, family & friends, you’re all fair game, I’m afraid). I squeeze the little bit of fact and pinch off edges, add and subtract, build and tear up, as with the aforementioned Play-Doh, until origins are unrecognizable, until the stories become mine, or until they are at least free from libel.