Rappahannock Review Nonfiction Editors: “Bigfoot, UFO’s, and Cults” is all about superstitions and the way they’re perceived. Do you believe that these supernatural occurrences are something missing in our daily lives?
Sean Winn: I do feel that belief in such supernatural occurrences must fill some sort of gap. I can’t quite lay my finger on exactly what, though. It could be the echo of economic pressures driving people off traditional ways of life, anxiety over technological change, or rebellion against increased secularism. The issue is something of an unanswered question at the end of the piece as well, and one that I think is worth dwelling on. The flip side of the coin is whether society’s needs changed, causing the sightings/rumors to fade away, or whether the hole is still there with people reaching for something new to fill it.
RR: We love how the narrator in this essay is so opinionated and colloquial. How do you approach capturing voice in your writing?
SW: More often than not, when a character has a strong voice in one of my short stories, it is because I first hear the character speaking and try to capture his or her diction/tone/attitude on the page. The narrative arc then grows up around him, as opposed to me framing a story and dropping the character to drop into it. In the fine tuning, the character might become a bit of a pastiche—a quirky expression borrowed from a friend, the saltiness of someone I used to know, made up bits mixed in—but it helps to have actually heard something similar in real life for it to come off as authentic. In the case of “Bigfoot, UFOs and Cults,” though, I’m the speaker, so I guess the colloquialism is just me—or at least part of me. The rural places named in the piece were all near where I grew up. I moved away a long time ago, but the area has remained a strong part of me. It’s a nice place to be from.
RR: How do you differentiate between the conspiracy theories that have become popularized in the last few decades and the smaller, area-specific stories you describe in your piece?
SW: I think the big difference might be social media. Localized rumors in small towns like the ones described in the essay were mostly word-of-mouth events spoken face-to-face, and were pretty harmless. Today’s (sometimes surprisingly widespread and bitter) belief in conspiracy theories, I feel, must partly be due to the social media echo chamber and the way newsfeed algorithms work. If you hear something once, you say, “Well, that’s just wacky,” but when you hear it for the forty-second time in two weeks, maybe you start to wonder. And when something kooky like Pizzagate is delivered between photos of your nephew’s birthday party, a review of the new Taylor Swift album, and word that your dad’s hip surgery was a success… well, unfortunately, that tends to normalize what would otherwise be seen as extreme.
RR: What is your favorite story starring cryptids, aliens, or cults? How do you think that story, and others like it, have affected your perspective of the world?
SW: I haven’t personally been a fan of the alien/creature sci-fi genre from a literary perspective, but The Thing scared the pants off of me when I was a kid. Culturally, I have a fondness for the Chupacabra, but given my focus on poetry at the moment, I would have to say my favorite creature is the Jabberwocky.
RR: You mention in your bio you came to writing after retirement. What did you do in your past life?
SW: I was in banking and investments—distressed debt, mostly. I had always enjoyed literature, but had never written anything until after I retired. Actually, I had to relearn how to write proper sentences—everything in the corporate world was in bullet points and was pretty dry stuff. I had a go at my first story two or three years ago, and summoned the courage to try my hand at poetry about this time last year. It has been slower going than I expected, but I’m pleased with the progress lately: a dozen pieces were either published this year or are forthcoming in journals, evenly spread across poetry, essays, and fiction.
Sean Winn’s work in Issue 8.1: