CONTRIBUTOR SPOTLIGHT: INTERVIEW WITH
The fiction editors, Rappahannock Review: You have a section of your blog (Writing and Running Through Life) dedicated entirely to Flannery O’Connor. Which work of hers has had the strongest influence on your own work?
Steven Stam: Wow, glad to know someone out there is reading some of that, I write it mostly for personal benefit, to compartmentalize and conceptualize her writing. O’Connor first struck me back in high school. We read “Good Country People” and “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” both classics that bring out the essence of both the south and the grotesque. In college, Padgett Powell assigned her work on a frequent basis, and he would really dig into her craft, the cyclical nature of some of her writing, and the overall style of he work. To this day, the piece that really resonates has to be “The Life You Save May Be Your Own.” The story is so honest, so sneaky and grotesque, while touching at the same time with the way Lucynell is left to the wolves. The religious overtones from the first moment you meet Shiftlet until he drives off into the storm say so much. These are the details that make life truly interesting and expose the inner compartments of our soul. At the same time, there is “Greenleaf” and anything involving Enoch, who brings out the ignorant humor that riddles human existence.
RR: How would you describe your relationship with running and writing?
SS: I run 35-50 miles a week and coach it as well. I spend a lot of time in my own head pounding pavement and dirt, and these moments allow me to think. Many a run has ended with taking notes on a pad of paper to eventually convert into a piece of fiction.
RR: Was there a precise moment when you came up with the idea of this story, when inspiration “struck” so to speak? Or did it develop more slowly over time?
SS: Convenient question, almost sounds like a follow up to the second one, I was on an 11 mile run on a Friday night, back in November. Post time change, most of the trek came in the dark, and I started slogging through a catalog of old memories. I really did see a lamb tied up in the back of a home near my house. I was ten or eleven–I think. It was a ritzy new subdivision, the type of area everyone wanted to go to on Halloween because they had the good candy. The crowd of people was so thick cars couldn’t use the road. So, we are talking golf course view, gated homes, and there was a lamb sweating in a back yard. Perhaps they really did want to sacrifice it, but I remember there was some sort of controversy, but either way there was a story there. So I thought about it around mile six and worked it out for the next set of miles, running lines in my head, playing with third and first person, but starting with the ending. I knew the kid had to be disappointed and shocked with the outcome, had to feel as if life had let him down. I used Siri to record my notes and typed it up post shower. One of those electric writing sessions.
RR: Are there particular reasons why you wrote “Blessings” more as a flash fiction piece than a longer story?
SS: To be candid, I have more success with flash. When I limit my language, I can get to the heart of what I am trying to say. Most of my longer work has fallen flat, empty, almost missing something. I get a lot of positive feedback, but always the not quite right or needs another revision type responses. My only real breakthrough being One-Eyed Love, which tops in at 8,000 words and incorporates the O’Connor grotesque. My flash cuts to the bone. In the last year I’ve placed a 50 word piece in Gravel and a 100 word piece in the East Jasmine review, each trying to be single serving poetic prose. “Blessings” needed to be free of fluff, more poetic, driven to reveal the heart and emotion of a confused child who is probing and exploring the world. Yet, I am compiling a collection of Florida themed flash fiction–I want to the world to see our oddities, but in a series of terse glimpses.
RR: What do you think the young narrator felt cheated of?
SS: Experience, the chance to form another opinion of life and fully understand an experience. The youth are striving for initiation into the adult world. They act on impulse, engage in risky behavior, and are drawn to that which they do not understand (I’m toying with a hundred word piece about this fact right now where the protagonist licks metal bars to taste the world). What better than a ritual, animal sacrifice to do the trick? Imagine how that would look to a sheltered, elementary school child–all they want to do is shake off the insulation put on them by society; this boy finds out a way, only to see it taken away from him and can thus never live through or recreate the experience.
Steven Stam is English Teacher, Writer, and Track/Cross Country coach from Jacksonville, Florida. Steven has a MA in English Literature from the University of North Florida and a BA in English from the University of Florida. He writes primarily flash fiction, believing the model fits modern society’s desire for instant gratification. His work can be found in Gravel Magazine, the Winter 2013 issue of Emerge Literary Journal, the East Jasmine Review, and he will soon be appearing on Fiction Southeast.
Steven Stam’s work in Issue 1.3: