Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: There is a strong speaker in “Zeus’s Fears,” which allows for a rich look into human relations and intergenerational relationships. How did you develop the voice in this piece, and does it have any connection to your own personal experiences?
Charlie James Stephens: I find that a lot of times in my writing I start with a feeling and then the characters get built around that. For this piece I was thinking a lot about my grandma when I wrote this. She passed away last year, and was (and still is) a very influential person in my life. She also had this mischievous, very patient and loving way about her that I tried to capture in the grandparent’s character. I also have two teenage kids at home who are fairly obsessed with video games. I’m interested in the ways that technology both bridges and interferes with human connection. In this case I wanted to show a kind of tenderness within the context of engaging over a video game. How technology affects our human connections is something I actually worry about a lot, but in this case it transformed into a moment of connection.
RR: Zeus’s story within the piece is very important and influential for the characters. Are there are any other myths that particularly resonated with you that you’ve considered writing about?
CJS: I’ve definitely thought about writing something relating to Hermaphroditus. Also, the story of Narcissus is really interesting to me. I actually know very little about mythology, but am interested in exploring those stories more and how they connect to contemporary times. Margaret Atwood once described the relationship between the U.S. and Canada as a one-way mirror, and how the U.S. only sees its own reflection. I’d like to develop a piece relating to that concept but on a more personal level. It’s a work in progress.
RR: Your style has an incredibly authentic feel to it, that makes for a believable reading. How many drafts did this story go through before the final product?
CJS: Thank you! I think because I started with an emotion is what made it more believable. We can all relate to breadth and depth of feeling if caught at the right time. This piece went through three or four drafts before I felt like it was complete.
RR: What inspired this piece? What do you hope readers take away from this piece?
CJS: I hope readers take away a feeling of tenderness for what is possible between people of different generations who are living disparate realities. Also, I wanted to convey a sort of shift with how gender is perceived, and how that concept is, I believe, drastically changing with the generation coming up now. As a parent and in my work as a high school teacher, I see that there is really something powerful happening with the ways that young people are open to gender and sexuality in such a free and liberated way. I wanted to show a glimpse of that conscious shift in Jesse’s character, and the ways that the grandparent’s character is part of making that shift possible.
RR: This story is both short and powerful. What do you think is the most challenging aspect to writing a flash piece?
CJS: I’m relatively new to flash fiction, but really love its power to convey deep feeling in few words. I think the most challenging aspect is in creating a conclusion that is not too tidy and leaves room for some further wondering. It’s definitely a work in progress in figuring out how to do that well, but it’s a process I really enjoy.
Charlie James Stephens’ work in Issue 5.3: