On Writing ‘Fireball’
My work pretty much always begins with material substances. I loved it when I read Martin Puryear’s description of having a sapling and wanting to do the right thing with it. The sapling came first, and Booker T Washington came after.
I collect material a bit in the way of Betye Saar or Louise Nevelson. You sense and recognize, find, search out, discover things that belong to you; you keep them, turn them over, feel them until the material that will complete the fragments shows up, then you work with it, you give it spit and tears and laughter.
I was smitten with the material of a young person treasuring a formative experience of paternal love and approval, and suffering the gift to be withdrawn, rendered null, denied by him. This loss, its self doubt and subsequent vacuum is of a piece with the rest of our young woman’s world: she must either struggle up and come to grips, master the story of her life, or have it spoon fed to her straitjacketed by those weaker than herself.
As with my women, I want to write queer characters that have something to do besides be queer in the story. I’m really fed up with the whole rap that if I write a gay character, it’s a gay story. There are LGBT people everywhere in the world; our experience and contribution affects many people besides other queers. We have more to do on Earth than explain our sexuality or appear as exotic set pieces.The people we are to other people makes a difference in the world.
So I love that at the still point of this story, riding in the center of the wheel, is the Fisher King; as the story circles its protagonist, it’s the hand of this fallen angel that pulls her from the periphery where centrifugal force has cast her, sets her in the center of her own life to write her own rules amid the reversals and syncopes natural to life.
There’s vital connection in this story: a young woman in the trial and turbulence of a rite of passage receives redemption. It’s a very tribal, Christ-like moment with the playing card in the valley of unbelief: Take, eat, this is my body – certainly a rhythm Eliot was writing from in the quoted lines (I’ve been reading his pageant play, “The Rock,” for a novel I’m working on). There in the very bed of appropriation, the Fisher is de-mystified and reawakens to his own power. There’s mutual healing, Marvin Gaye variation. I loved writing a character that was shape-shifter, father figure and steamy middle-age bad-boy all in one.
This story evolved as I wrote it, and obviously, I’ve other concerns. I’m a formalist at heart, and the opportunity to write parallax was delicious. I hope to see more of the young woman in this story.
Susan MaierMoul is a writer and photographer based in New York. She won the 2014 Sean O’Faolin Short Story Prize for her story, ‘Pleasure’.