My short story “Stella’s Radio” was published this week by Delay Fiction. It’s a story about love and connection, about the awkwardness that sometimes attends the becoming of who we truly are, and about the way life’s circumstances can propel us into the open, out from the cover of normalcy and safety and little dreams.
I didn’t know these things when I sat down to write it. A story begins with some little nudge of inspiration, a moment that conveys an energetic charge. I feel it in my body. There is a visceral need to start setting some words out onto the screen, to start the process of constructing all the things around this point of entry. It might be as simple as the image of an elderly man shaking hands with a another person. He has a certain look in his eye—a tone that rings throughout his being. A joy settles into my chest. A recognition. Then it’s off to the races. Who is this person? What is he doing? Where does his clarion presence come from? I could spend days envisioning scenes and moments and people, and nothing would grab hold of me, and then out of the blue something will stick. I’ll be dragging the trash cans out to the curb, and it will hit me. The feeling. It’s like being a child and discovering some new trail in the woods. Where does it lead?
Sometimes people ask what a story is about and I find myself taking a heavy breath, as if I’ve just been asked to explain how the world began. I find the essence of a story is just too much to say before attentions wither. And even if I manage to say something simple and relevant, like I tried to do in the opening paragraph here, that’s still not what the story is. How to explain this thing that has no beginning and no end and is part of every story and is the only reason we write in the first place?
We read for many reasons, but we write for only one. A story is a truth you can’t say any other way. It’s a peek at the heart of things, at the point where you end and everything else begins—the point where nothing is missing. To write is to pioneer one of these routes to the world’s center, to enter the whole of things more deeply than usual. You put on some instant, some moment or place or being, like a costume—it’s interesting at first, you could just take it off, right?—but then you discover you can’t go back. You can’t unlearn what you learned when you sat down to write. You can’t forget what you called upon to set those words upon the page.
A story is a vantage. It’s a simple movement usually, from the sandy ground on which we usually walk to the outcropping twenty or thirty feet overhead. We scramble around a bit, find our way up there, and the distance we travel on paper is very short perhaps, but once we arrive, and turn to look back, we discover nothing is quite what we thought it was. Things are renewed, made fuller–ourselves included, as both writers and as readers. How do you say what a story is about, when really it’s this movement, the moment of looking back, and what each of us finds there? I cannot say what you will find. What it’s about depends on you…
Writing is a lovely, challenging, sometimes debilitating process, but ultimately it enriches and sustains me. And hopefully, if you read this story, you will get a glimpse of what I’m talking about!