Contributor Spotlight:
Interview with David Gillette

Rappahannock Review Prose Editors: We love the focus on musicality in “Frogs.” How did you approach using sonic elements to bring this piece to life?

David Gillette: Donna, the story’s main character, is curious about the world outside the confines of her small town and is trying to imagine her way there. She doesn’t have much to work with besides what she’s seen in movies and magazines and from what she hears on the radio or from the records in her mother’s collection. To make her idea of the outside world more substantial, more believable, Donna begins building a soundtrack using sounds from daily life: ditch water, frogs, the town’s whistle, footsteps on the road.

I focus on these repetitive sounds to create a backbeat for Donna and for the reader so when she meets the live band toward the end of the story, we can better appreciate how powerful and all-encompassing this encounter is for her. Music is notoriously difficult to write about so I have tried to write around it, focusing instead on sounds we all know, in the hope this will encourage readers to bring their own, more complex musical soundtracks to the story as it develops.

RR: The relationship between Donna and Juliet feels saturated with innocence, desire, and one-sided longing. How did you use this relationship to develop Donna as a character?

DG: Donna lives in a small town where she is mostly ignored and has no role to play. Juliet encourages Donna to become part of something bigger than herself by interacting with the band, by joining The Tempest cast and crew, and by learning how to be a friend and confidant. This relationship offers Donna a glimpse of the outside world, offering her the potential for escape and re-invention. She now needs to decide if she is going to use the door that Juliet has opened for her.

RR: For you, what role does setting play in character and narrative?

DG: I think place is important for all storytelling. Knowledge of the ground beneath our feet helps us determine how to move ahead, what path to choose, how fast we can run, how slow we should walk, where to stop and listen and where we have yet to explore. Place provides limits and boundaries, gives shape to what occurs there. I can’t imagine building a story without first knowing where it is taking place since that gives me a stage where I can see my characters move and interact. Place gives me a sense of the audience watching the story unfold, an audience that I hope is listening to what I have to say.

RR: We understand that you have lived in small towns throughout your life. How have your experiences with small-town life influenced your writing?

DG: It’s a cliché, but also true, that in a small town your past is never far behind you; everyone thinks they know everything about you since they share so many stories about you, themselves, and the town. Stepping apart from all those stories can be difficult but rewarding. I’m interested in how stories of the same small place so often conflict and intertwine, changing how people see themselves and how they define one another. I’m interested in how people escape their stories and their pasts, but also in how they find comfort in ritual and so easily fall into old patterns, relations, and beliefs.

RR: We have also seen that you have studied film. Are there any specific film directors or writers that inspire your work?

DG: I admire the films of Mira Nair and how she weaves together the rhythms of nature with ceremony and the quiet moments of life. I like how Federico Fellini’s characters often look at the lens, making the audience part of his stories. The documentary films of Frederick Wiseman and Errol Morris demonstrate to me the way powerful institutions feed upon the individual stories of the people who allow those systems to exist. I’m always amazed at how Jim Jarmusch finds humor in the smallest things, and creates memorable stories from the incidents, people and places many of us so often ignore or overlook.

David Gillette’s work appears in Issue 9.2 here.