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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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