Rappahannock Review Prose Editors: We were engaged in the way that “Contact High” focuses on a character with a tumultuous psyche and inner narrative. What influenced you to write this experience?

Gabrielle McAree: Shell’s tumultuous energy is a party platter of anxiety, fear of the unknown, isolation, and an abundance of caffeine. She’s the human Energizer Bunny who clings to self-reflection and self-deprecation as a means of survival. Her erratic behavior is the product of her loneliness and her inability to forge personal relationships with anyone outside the internet. I wanted to explore an endoscopy-like experience with Shell, which is why, throughout the story, her emotional inner life is ping-ponged around so vigorously. The reader gets a look at her personality from all angles. Plainly, I didn’t want Shell to be a shell, but a 3-D character who is not only relatable, but almost unbearably honest. In a way, I consider Shell to be a human x-ray, highlighting the paralyzing fears and behaviors that humans keep locked away.

RR: The voice and structure presented within the story are quick, moving from one disjointed thought to another; how did you decide on and develop that style?

GM: As mentioned, I was adamant about creating a ping-pong experience with Shell. Her energy also reminds me of the chaos during a basketball game or Black Friday seconds after Target opens its doors. I wanted her story to be a mass release of sorts. Developing this style was a challenge in making it feel authentic. I’m a very scatter-brain person myself, so I pulled from that, but what really helped me nail the voice and structure was reading the piece out loud. I continued to ask myself, “Does this jump work or is it forced?” I studied the Tadashi Suzuki Method of Acting in college, and a big takeaway from the method is getting to the next thing: physically, mentally, and emotionally. How does one get from A to B to C? Not just the product, but the journey. So, that is what I tried to do with Shell: create a discombobulated map, or her brain on paper, showing her ride from one idea to the next.

RR: This story focuses on extreme, self-imposed isolation. How do you get into a mindset where you can write about these sorts of topics?

GM: My inspiration for writing Shell’s isolation came from living alone in my New York City apartment at the start of quarantine. I had thousands of thoughts running rampant and no one to volley with. The almost panic that this time created for me, and many others, was visceral. I tapped into this experience, plus a solo 14-hour car drive fueled by RedBull, to get into the mindset of Shell, this character who has adapted to being alone so expertly that she’s afraid of the outside world. I included bowling as a leisure activity for Shell because even though it can be a team sport or conducted with a group of friends, at its roots, bowling is an independent experience. It’s you, the ball, and the pins. At its bones, that’s it. Same with Euchre. It’s a team game, but physically, you’re alone, and your partner is alone. You could be in different time zones, on different sides of the world, and still wind up in the same game. Sidebar, my family and I took to the local bowling alley as soon as our state lifted the restrictions, and my brother played online Euchre throughout quarantine. You write what you know, right?

RR: We’re drawn in by your characters in your work that are often self-destructive in unique ways. Could you discuss what about this theme resonates with you?

GM: Exploring self-destruction is a vice for me. I’m fascinated and consumed by the “ugliness” of humanity. I put ugliness in quotes because I find flaws and self-sabotage to be the most interesting components of a personality. I’m interested in peeling back performative layers and getting to the grit, the truth, and the why. Why do we—as humans—consciously behave in destructive ways? Why do we obstruct opportunities and stand in the way of our own happiness? I’m from a family of seven people, so I’ve been fortunate enough to witness the growth, setbacks, and successes of many different types of people. Growing up was like a master class of character, in the sense that something was always happening. Pulling from these experiences, I’m drawn to dissecting the “ugly” truths and exploiting them for a better understanding of who we are as human beings.

RR: We see from your bio you have quite a bit of work forthcoming in journals—we’re looking forward to that. What other new projects are you working on?

GM: Thank you! I’m excited about this as well. I’m always trying to emerse myself into the creative realm—head first, be it reading books, watching movies, editing my sister’s research paper on Violence Against Women in Antiquity, streaming theatre, or reading friends’ manuscripts. Constantly consuming some type of creativity has been instrumental for me, both personally and in terms of my own work. It’s so important to me that I’m constantly learning, and by consuming art, I will never stop learning. I’ve been working on a collection of short stories, mostly flash fiction pieces. I’m also working on a contemporary New-Adult novel that explores love and friendship amidst two very different financial backgrounds; by way of transaction, status, and class. I will continue to work on these projects and other writings throughout the summer as I prepare for my M.F.A. in the fall.

Gabrielle McAree’s work in Issue 8.2: 

“Contact High”