It's interesting timing for this particular story to come out as I return today from my winter MFA residency. I wrote it last June during the summer residency at Pacific University in response to the craft talks by the fiction faculty: Kellie Wells on turning metaphor into reality; Jack Driscoll on loving your characters; Mary Helen Stefaniak on the power of "once"; David Long on meaningful sentences; and others. I did fall short—couldn't figure out how to employ Jess Walter's suggestion of the 2nd person narrative switch. Maybe next time.
Some additional backstory on the writing process is that the main character, Mayfair, comes from a piece I wrote years ago in a Writers@Work workshop with Phyllis Barber. Even though that particular story didn't came together at the time, Mayfair has remained with me.
The bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building occurred during a time when my personal life was in complete collapse. I recall picking up the newspaper in a hospital kitchen and being so struck by the enormity of loss and moved by the survivors' stories, including stories of some of the children who survived. That has also remained with me.
In her craft talk at the most recent MFA residency, Pam Houston said people always wanted to know if her stories were true. I have to think that's kind of a trick question for a writer. Everything I write is grounded in truth in some way. The truth could be a porcupine on the freeway that I nearly hit driving drunk and too fast on I-80 from Park City in the middle of the night after the W@W conference. Or the news story that made me weep when I could not access my feelings about ending up in yet another treatment center. Or the startling beauty of a robin's song, defiant in the darkness before a summer sunrise.
Or maybe they're all just stories.
Everything on the earth bristled, the bramble
pricked and the green thread
nibbled away, the petal fell, falling
until the only flower was the falling itself.
Water is another matter,
has no direction but its own bright grace,
runs through all imaginable colors,
takes limpid lessons
and in those functionings plays out
the unrealized ambitions of the foam.
- by Pablo Neruda (1904-1973)