INTERVIEW WITH JENNAFER D’ALVIA
Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: The protagonist of “Hercules” uses a wheelchair, which gives us a perspective that is underrepresented in literature. What inspired you to take on this point of view?
Jennafer D’Alvia: Years ago, I was in a relationship with a man who was paralyzed and he used a wheelchair. When I got close to him and got to know his world, I was surprised at how much I didn’t know. His experience was painful and fascinating, and it was something I wanted to examine in my fiction. In fact, it was more than want; I really felt that I needed to use fiction to express the pain and sadness of his condition.
RR: The characters in the piece find freedom through the mobility of the hand-crank bikes. What does the theme of freedom mean to you?
JD: I think that freedom is connected to identity. If we can express who we are, we feel free. This expression can take many forms: verbal, physical, artistic, romantic, etc.
In “Hercules” the main character’s physical identity had been transformed by his disability from athletic to paraplegic, and he was unable to express an important aspect of himself—his physical, athletic self—until he found the “Hercules” club and was able to ride a hand-crank bike.
In the story, the character reconnected with a part of himself, and I think this is a process that many people go through in their lives. For whatever reason, they let a part of themselves go, and later, if they’re lucky, they can find this piece of their identity again and experience the joy of expressing it.
RR: We’re drawn into “Hercules” immediately through a strong sense of character. What did your writing process look like in terms of developing the narrator’s voice?
JD: For years, I studied at the Writers Studio in New York City, where the focus is on personal writing, and I learned so much about developing my narrative voice there.
I think when you read and study a lot of fiction, you start to see which kinds of voices work for you as a writer, or else for particular material that you want to write about. In Hercules, I tried out a conversational, first person voice to get at the character, and I could see pretty quickly that it was working. By that, I mean that it was helping me to convey the character’s emotion and personality.
After that, I fleshed out the plot and the character’s reactions to what was going on around him. Then it was a question of re-writing. This story went through many drafts, before I was able to fully convey the character and bring him out onto the page.
RR: Have you thought about writing a follow-up piece?
JD: I’m not planning to write a follow-up piece to this story, but I have written other stories, centered around, or including characters in wheelchairs. There are so many facets to the experience that one story isn’t enough. I have more that I’d like to explore there through other characters and other narrative techniques.
RR: In your bio you mention you’re working on a collection of short stories. Can you tell us more about what’s going into this project?
JD: I’m at work on a collection of short stories with the overarching theme of transcending constraints. In these stories, characters rise above the limitations of physical disability, cultural identity, and sometimes even the laws of the physical world, including death.
Several of the stories contain fantastical elements. For example, in one story, an able-bodied guy lends his legs to a friend whose legs are amputated. I’m drawn to speculative elements in my fiction, because I believe imagination is a tangible part of the human experience. Our imaginings are an integral part of our lives; they tell us our concerns and help shape our identities.
I see fantastical elements as an extension of the kinds of metaphors that are used in traditional, non-speculative fiction. And many of the stories in the collection, like “Hercules,” are in that more traditional form as well.
I’ve been working on this project for several years. Each story has gone through many drafts—usually over fifty, and at this point, I’m (hopefully) close to finishing the manuscript.
Jennafer D’Alvia’s work in Issue 7.2: