Interview with 1/2K Finalist: J. Bowers

Steeplechase RideIR: How did this piece come about? At what point did the length restriction start to factor into your writing?

Bowers: I first heard about the Steeplechase ride from the great documentary Ric Burns did about Coney Island. I did some research about the ride, looking at old photos and snippets of film, and I was struck by the insane danger of the ride, as well as the collision between the natural and mechanical inherent in the horses, which is a theme I’m obsessed with. From the start, I knew I wanted to keep each vignette short and stand-alone, because the physical experience of riding on the Steeplechase was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it sort of sensation. It felt wrong to go on and on about a carnival ride that was literally over in less than a minute. That said, there is an unpublished fourth section that I finished after submitting the other three pieces to the Indiana Review. Thinking of each vignette as a separate piece unto itself, as well as part of a cycle, allowed me to do that.

IR: How did you negotiate the relationship between form and content of this piece?

Bowers: It took me a long time, over a year, to figure out how to write about the Steeplechase ride. I tried several different approaches before I decided to use each horse mannequin as an occasion for a scene, and number the scenes the way I did. After I found a photograph that showed how women were expected to ride the ride sidesaddle during the late 19th century, without a seat belt, all the main characters became women. I was interested in what riding the horses meant to different age groups and classes of women, how an amusement park ride could be a dehumanizing experience, or an empowering one.

IR: How would you assign a genre to this piece?

Bowers: I consider it historical fiction, because it includes a lot of factual details about a real place and a few real people, but I did take a lot of liberties. I don’t mind fudging certain details or creating anachronisms to preserve an image that pops up, or even inventing things that sound real. That’s the fun part, for me.

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