After thirty-six years as a pilot in both military and civilian aviation, John found his way back to school and his currently finishing his MFA in Writing at the University of New Hampshire. His short story, “Ambush” was published in Level Best Books’ 2012 anthology Dead Calm.
We love No Corners, a story that takes multiple twists and turns. What was your inspiration?
I was in a Creative Writing course and the assignment was to begin a story with, “It all started when…”. My dad had just been diagnosed with cancer and I had recently read Ken Gergen’s, An Invitation to Social Constructionism, which speaks to the role society plays in crafting how we become who we are (and I do a great disservice to that book with that minimalist synopsis). Then there’s Tim McGraw’s song, Live Like You Were Dying. And if stress can cause illness, a notion around which there appears to great consensus, can removing stress cure illness? The reference in the story to a New York Times article reporting on a period of exceptional stress as an igniter of cancer that is found 18 months later is true. I didn’t know what I was saving it for after I read it but…I think we all have this mélange of experiences and information waiting to be used. I still am amazed at what pops up after I start writing.
Your story has several layers of identity changing and identity theft. What got you into this topic? How much research did you have to do?
Identity Theft–Again, my dad. In the last five years of his life, he became worried about someone stealing his identity. We talked about it a lot as he had become well informed. He did my research for me. I just listened and remembered.As to identity changing—I enjoy reading a story where a character’s sense of self changes. I think the answer to the age-old question, “Who am I?” is a moving target.
Everyone who writes short stories talks about building a tight narrative frame, but your story takes place in multiple locations over the course of a year. What challenges did you have in writing it?
In this story, the challenge was to create a tight plan of attack in the mind of my protagonist and have him lay out that plan for the reader. Once the plan was in its execution phase (pun intended) the reader knew it would involve multiple locations over time. Creating that expectation allowed me to take the reader through more time and space than one experiences in many short stories.
What are you working on now?
Something longer and also a short story about a dog named Zeus.