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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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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.

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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.

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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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Laura Spence-Ash’s “The Remains”

Lately, my Christmas list consists of a series of subscriptions to lit journals, and this year I was lucky enough to get One Story—and even luckier that the first booklet that landed in my mailbox was Laura Spence-Ash’s “The Remains.” Spence-Ash tells the story of Mrs. Constantine in five distinct sections, from five points-of-view, none of them Mrs. Constantine’s. We meet the main character, in fact, by meeting her corpse, which has been decaying in her half of a Queens duplex for months. One of the remarkable and memorable components of this piece is the care and attention Spence-Ash brings to her choice of characters who fill out the—well, the remains—of Mrs. Constantine.

The cast includes a spectrum of familiarity to the woman, and in that way, a spectrum of peculiarity when we remember that Mrs. Constantine’s remains have gone unnoticed for nearly a year. The police sergeant who discovers her and the reluctant seamstress who used to do her alterations could hardly be blamed for not realizing the woman hasn’t been around in some time. But when Spence-Ash introduces Mrs. Constantine’s next door neighbor, a young mother who admits to herself that she smelled something strange earlier in the year, I began to question my own passivity and the ease with which we can explain away truths that are uncomfortable. Spence-Ash raises the stakes with Bob MacMillan, Mrs. Constantine’s old boss, who called the police when she stopped showing up to work, but has quietly resigned to her absence. In a heartbreaking final section, we meet Mrs. Constantine’s ex-husband, a man who has moved on where the dead woman could not.

“The Remains” captures brief moments and realizations that each of these characters go through, pulling together deft outlines of what the lonely death means for them all, while also constructing a subtle portrait of the deceased. Perhaps my favorite part of this story, however—which I first read in January and think about and re-read regularly—is the little note in Ms. Spence-Ash’s bio which informs us that “this is her first published story.”

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The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri or: How to Find a Good Book at the Airport

Warning: This review contains no spoilers. Viewer discretion advised.

[I’ve got that summertime, summertime sadness…]

It’s 8:54 AM on a Thursday in July and I’m standing in a Hudson Book Sellers at Chicago Midway Airport.

In 25 minutes I’ll be departing for Las Vegas.

In 25 minutes it will be me and Lana Del Rey cruising Southwest Airlines, eating hard shitty pretzels, and wondering why this Bachelors Party had to be in Vegas.

But for now it’s me and Cindy. Cindy, who is working the morning shift at this Hudson Book Sellers.

Midway Airport is like the Mos Eisley of Airports. You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy. One must be cautious when flying.

But here I am, with a bag of McDonald’s Hash Browns, looking for a book to read before I lose myself to Sin City.

I should have known better.

Why I would find a book worthy of a 4 hour flight? What good can possibly come from a Hudson’s Book Sellers?

The usual players are displayed neatly in the window:

Now Boarding:

James Patterson: Row 1, Seat A.
Elizabeth Gilbert: Row 1, Seat B.
Nicholas Sparks: Row 1, Seat C.
John Green: Row 1, Seat D.

Paul Asta Row 26, Seat E.*

*In reality I am B46, because Southwest does that weird non-assigned seats thing.

I am taking coach to a whole new level of sadness, and we’ve been sad for a long time.

The Fault in Our Stars is flying off the shelves at a record pace. It’s the paperback of the summer, and I’ve seen at least 6 copies as I walk to my terminal.

But then, in the darkest corner, behind a cardboard standup display for Trident Gum, I see it:

NATIONAL BOOK AWARD FINALIST.
PULITZER PRIZE WINNER.

Friends, I tell you, even in darkness, there is hope: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

In truth, I have never read anything by Jhumpa Lahiri before, so I cannot speak to how the Lowland compares to her other work.

But I will say I find her prose engaging, face paced, and lively. And it is perhaps for this reason I am willing to overlook certain points where things don’t add up.

I am a sucker for coming of age stories and stories that concern brothers.

I am a sucker for character driven narratives as opposed to plot driven ones.

I appreciate characters that can show emotional complexity over a span of time and represent a full spectrum of feelings as opposed to having singular drives.

In this way, I believe Lahiri is successful.

If you’re looking for an emotional, character driven novel, The Lowland is for you.

Also, possibly The Fault in Our Stars, but I don’t know.

All I can say is If you’re looking for book at Hudson’s, look in the corners of the bookshelves. There’s something for everyone.

The fault is you not looking hard enough.

Thirteen Word Story Twitter Contest Results

Thank you to everyone who submitted to our Twitter contest with your 13 word stories!

We know it isn’t easy to write a story in such a small space, something submitters to our 1/2 K Prize are currently experiencing firsthand. Plus, we threw in the monkey wrench of associating the image to some frankly eyebrow-raising images. All of our wonderful followers rose to the challenge, and we are here to announce the winners of our awesome prizes.

Read more…