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Interview with 2013 Fiction Prize Winner: Summer Wood

lightning field portraitSummer Wood’s astonishing story, “Boomerang,” won our 2013 Fiction Prize, judged by Claire Messud. Messud called Wood’s story “impressive” and “profoundly moving,” and praised its facility with moving “seamlessly between the narrator’s present voice. . .and his childhood experiences.” We’re particularly proud to have published this story in Indiana Review issue 36.1—and you can now read Wood’s moving piece on our site. Here Wood discusses how this piece came to her and in what form, the difficult notion of unconditional love, and the hard work of writing toward understanding.

1. Starting broadly, what was the inspiration for this piece? Do you find it has anything in common with your other work?

The first section, the two boys playing frisbee at dusk with the dog, came out of the blue—and yet I was pretty sure that it contained everything the story would mean, or be. It was just a feeling, but it panned out. The frisbee, the title, the collarbone, the whole throw-and-return action seemed vital to Jack’s experience of the world. In that way, I guess it’s like all my work; some weird thing plunks itself down in front of me and I write my way toward understanding it. Not intellectually, but through the medium of the story.

2. What was most difficult for you in writing this story?

Without question, the most difficult and painful part was having to explore Jack’s father’s role. I knew the shirt was crucial but I had to push on to understand why. And when Jack reports that his father said that they’d love their son “no matter what”—that about killed me. We talk about unconditional love but most of the time we’re talking shit. What we mean is we’ll overlook this thing about you. Not we love you, fully, as you are—something different. Which is not bad, but when you get down to it, it’s really painful. I guess a lot of the story concerns that: what we see, what we think we see, what we allow ourselves to see, what we refuse to see. And how that affects the ways we’re able to relate to one another.

3. Your character Jack is made so real. Did you have a particular technique or ambition in first developing his character?

Jack had no trouble speaking for himself. His voice came on fully formed, and since the story is so much about how he puzzles through what’s happened to his friend and to himself, I just had to listen to him amble through the process. My concern was that, well, first-person POV characters lie a lot. It’s something I like about them. But I wanted to be sure that Jack caught himself in every lie he told. So that’s part of the recursive bit of the story: this, but—no. This. And at the end, the doubling-back—the seeing himself double back—is, maybe, the truest part of him.

Also, there’s Spot. Nothing like a dog in the mix to reveal character.

4. Did you know, starting out, how the story would look in its final form, or did this piece undergo any transformation?

I had no idea how this story would go. I knew I wanted to find out what would happen to the dog, and to Jack, and to his friend Easton, but I had no preconceptions. I do know that the story caught a surge of energy when certain things came in. Plot points, sure—but also place. The bramble. And Chet. Once Chet came in, I thought, uh oh. Here we go, now. But the story pretty much fell together in three main sittings, and then a fair amount of line-level work. That’s not always the case for me. I think the structure lent itself to that, and I’m grateful.

Summer Wood is the author of novels Raising Wrecker (Bloomsbury) and Arroyo (Chronicle Books). Her non-fiction work has appeared or is forthcoming in National Geographic Traveler, Flyway, and other venues. The recipient of a WILLA Prize and the Literary Gift of Freedom from A Room of Her Own Foundation, Wood teaches writing at the University of New Mexico’s Taos Summer Writers’ Conference. www.summerwoodwrites.com

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2013 Fiction Prize Winner: “Boomerang” by Summer Wood

“Boomerang” by Summer Wood

Winner of the 2013 Fiction Prize

Dusk seeps into the back yard, collecting in the twinned canopy of the sugar maple and the cherry, pooling in the grass beneath the trees, staining the side of the two-story garage we’d dubbed the Fort, slowly, gradually, almost imperceptibly bedding the wild rhubarb below in its inky darkness. The sky is still too bright for the stars to emerge. Easton and I, both ten, stand at opposite ends of the mowed expanse and thread a Frisbee through the space between us. It sails out, solid and vivid as the moon, from his right hand to my left. Beneath it my dog Spot bounds happily, her eager bark and hoarse breath the only sounds apart from our occasional laughter or, beyond, the slam of a door or distant passing of a car. And then—this is how I remember it, though it’s been more than twenty years—darkness storms the yard in earnest and it grows too dim to see and I am the one who finally fumbles the catch, and when Spot retrieves it, grips it in her teeth, I slip to the grass to wrestle it from her. I lie back. Fireflies are brightening. In time the dark deepens enough for the first stars to show, and I shift to an elbow and push myself up.

Spot sits beside me, patiently waiting. I am her boy.

Her other boy is Easton, but he has gone home.

Read more…

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Ten Things We Wish Never Ended

Like sand through the hour glass, time is almost up to submit to our general submissions and fiction contest. The deadline looms. We are talking days here, people!

Still unsure about submitting to our fiction contest? Did you know Roxane Gay is our Judge?
Check out the contest guidelines here.

So, you’re not a fiction writer? Or don’t want to submit to our contest? We would still love to see your work.
Check out our general guidelines here.

But enough with the business. In closing, we offer 10 things we wish never ended or disappeared. Also, by “We” I mean me (Paul), and my former selves.

10. Dawson’s Creek:

Dear Diary, I don’t want to wait for our lives to be over, I want to know right now, what will it be? I have so many questions, like, what ever happened to Paula Cole? Where are Joey and Pacey now? Is anyone reading my alternate ending to the season 2 finale on my LiveJournal? Actually, maybe I am glad this ended. Yikes.

dawsonscreek

9. Magic Eye (Warning, Possible Eye Strain):

The year is 1993. The world is small and full of magic. My eyes are normal. My life is normal. My parents are not divorced and I am enjoying a Happy Meal that comes with a Hot Wheels toy. Ah, memories.

This is the worst. Onward!

magiceye

8. MTV Spring Break 1998:

It’s tearin’ up my heart when I’m with you, Carson Daly. Remember TRL? Limp Bizkit? Body Shots in Jamaica? I think the real question is, how was this rated PG? And, what does PG even mean? I remember that time Korn – Freak On A Leash beat N’Sync, Backstreet Boys, and Britney Spears. Actually I think that was 1999.

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7. Sega Game Gear TV Tuner:

Before the digital days, the portable Sega Genesis TV Tuner was the only thing keeping me alive during our family road trips across the country. I remember reading Electric Gaming Monthly and obsessing over the AD for the TV Tuner. Mom, please? PLEASE. This thing destroyed batteries though. Like 6 hours of lemmings and you’re done.

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6. Legends of the Hidden Temple:

That Temple Run, right? Silver Snakes. Blue Barracudas. Purple Parrots. Do you hear that alliteration? According to a 2007 poll in the Springfield, Illinois State Journal-Register, ten percent of respondents said that Legends of the Hidden Temple was their “favorite ‘old school’ Nickelodeon show”(Wikipedia). I miss these game shows. I miss the Steps of Knowledge. Also the shitty prizes, like a Super Soaker 50 or Moon Shoes. What a disappointment.

LOTHT

5. KaZaA:

If you’ve made it this far, click here to win two free iPod nanos. Just by reading this your computer is now infected with malware. Remember people who would make shitty ID3 tags? Like, you’d download that mp3, open WinAmp, and it would look like: ~*(Nelly)*~ {RiDe WiTh mE}. Why? Why did you do that? What do you mean there are no seeds for this song and only 5 peers? #damn.
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4. Ecto Cooler:
If there’s something strange in your neighborhood, who you gonna call? Probably Mr. Davidson. He’s the captain of the neighborhood watch. Always sitting on his porch, watching people from his house on the corner. Always watching, waiting, plotting. What an angry man. Well at least he always handed out these juice boxes on Halloween. Mom didn’t appreciate that too much. Something about how i’d run around the house like a bat out of hell. Sorry, Mom.

ectocooler

3. Goosebumps books:

I’ve always wondered what R.L. stands for. And I think, after all these years, I’ve figured it out. [R]alph [L]auren Stine. #NailedIt I don’t think I ever read a Goosebumps book, but I sure made my mom buy them for me. I was always more of a Boxcar Children kind of guy. Who stole $20 dollars from the register in the morning, and put it back in the afternoon? Why is grandpa such a dick? Isn’t this just like Scooby-Doo? Anyways, not a fan of SAY CHEESE and DIE! or psycho thrillers for kids. Sorry, maybe Stine just isn’t the writer for me. However, he makes a nice polo. I’ll give him that.

goosebumps

2. Hairagami:

I never had the hair for this growing up. I’ve never bought anything from a television infomercial. Though, I do struggle to open pickle jars from time to time. And I do enjoy brownies that have chewy edges. Can you imagine the things you would buy if you had a credit card when you were like 12? Let’s say something cringe worthy like, Ode to the possibilities!

hairagami

1. LA GEAR Shoes:

A lot of people talk about retro Jordan’s being the hottest shoes on the market. Why is no one talking about LA GEAR? These shoes are the best way to light up a room. ha. I actually don’t know what I’d do if I saw an adult wearing light up shoes. Probably assume they’re going to one of those dance clubs where Snooky and Pauly D are coming for a night. Probably wearing too much Cool Water. Probably driving a red Toyota Celica with white stripes and spinners. Maybe I’m wrong though. I’m wrong a lot of the time.

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Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven

Even on its surface, Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven is a beautifully constructed spiderweb of a novel. It begins with the death of Arthur Leander, an aging actor, and expands outward. On the same snowy night, a deadly Georgian Flu breaks out in North America and spreads quickly, completely wiping out 99 percent of the population. Moving back and forth in time, the narrative weaves together the lives of Arthur’s ex-wife, his college friend, the paramedic who tries to revive him, and, most centrally, Kristen Raymonde, the eight-year old child actress who witnesses his death.
Fifteen years after the collapse, Kristen is performing Shakespeare plays with the Traveling Symphony, a ragtag group of musicians and actors who wander through the half-formed settlements of the new world. Painted on their caravan is the Star Trek quote, “Because survival is insufficient.” But when they encounter a violent prophet, the symphony must once again fight to maintain their fragile existence.
At once sprawling and intimate, Station Eleven is less interested in the gore of the epidemic than it is in the aftermath, the different ways humans embark on the painstaking process of rebuilding. Both before and after the epidemic, Mandel’s complex characters grapple with the same questions, searching across an impersonal world for connection and meaning and hope.
While traveling with the symphony, Kristen remembers flying on airplane as a child. “She’d pressed her forehead to the window and saw clusters and pinpoints of light in the darkness, scattered constellations liked by roads or alone. The beauty of it, the loneliness. . .” For me, Station Eleven is that pinpoint of light, that faint voice coming through a dark tunnel, a prayer for the modern world.