Susan Tepper: There’s a sense of immediacy, a dramatic tension, around Traces in the Winter Sky that pulled me right into the space of this story.  Doug, you created that tension in your very first line: “Tyler steadied himself alongside the enormous Cypress that bordered the open space…”

Why?  I thought, why did he steady himself?  Why was it all so enormous and open?

Did you know in advance or did you let the story unfurl moment-to-moment?

Doug Bond:  Thank you Susan. This is a great first question. It lets me know that I was successful with something I’d had trouble with…the opening. I wrote the first version of this story over a year ago, and put it through most of the substantive changes and revisions at that time. A bit later I had enough distance to see some of the issues that were not working and pared it down, simplified the emotional space. But there was enough of the original that stuck to it that it created some other conflicts, so I just left it alone, frustrated.

Your call for the 2nd Valentine’s Day Massacre got me thinking about the story again and how all along this story had been in its own way a valentine. The months of absence helped. I needed an opening that would establish a number of things, Tyler’s age (old), that he’s just had a bit of a dust up with his wife (specifically), that time and infirmity has shifted his sense of placement (generally). I used natural images as symbols of permanence, anchors in a changing world, a place that is otherwise, wide open and dark.

Susan:  Because I’ve been surrounded by art most of my life (many relatives are painters) I tend to see writing as a strong visual.  Your story has that, and as you tell us, it was an intentional choice you made to give the story its firmament: its placement in the world of stories.  I can see it all so clearly, and feel the chilly wind that you create, hear the wind chimes you give us.  There is a huge amount given here in a fairly short span of story.  As if you are painting a story the equivalent of the wide open west before it became a place of little towns.

Doug: Interesting that you highlight the visual energy in the piece. I had the challenge of telling a story through the point of view of a man who has recently lost his vision, whether or not this is taken literally or figuratively by the reader. The benefit to me of Tyler’s blindness was to offer me a narrative frame, a point of view which I built through a non-visual perspective (excepting his memories) and so I was able to focus on smells, touch and what he hears to build the present time story. These details (hopefully) also anchor the reader’s connection with what Tyler is feeling and experiencing.

Susan:  Yes, the visual energy is enormous.  Then you go on to create small town America when you write their back-story, their beginnings some fifty years earlier, a clandestine smoke and some kissing in a little room tucked behind the orchestra at a Christmas concert.  Perhaps a church hall or town hall.  At any rate I can hear Copland’s Appalachian Spring playing as background music to the movie version of this story.  This classic American story.

And just when you get us feeling all kind of cozy, you bring up the stars.  Well, Jenny does.  Stars and numbers.  You change the painting again, broad strokes.  How’s that?

Doug: Oh, this is wonderful, to have you offer the music the story makes you hear. Amazing, you’ve linked it to Copland, as the initial memory that got this story started was a contemplation of my own, back some years to the innocence and freshness of first love, to a night which not only featured a discussion of stars, but a listening to Appalachian Spring, too. The stars in this piece, the constellation Orion, provide a framing as well, an arc from one part of their lives to another. In Greek mythology, Orion was a hunter, and suffered being blinded as part of one of his “courtships” (he also had a dog!) At a time of doubt and confusion for Tyler, the night sky offers, even if only in his memory, an image of something immutable, unchanged in 50 years or 5 million.

Susan:  Well, I’ll be damned!  How did I ever hear Appalachian Spring??  Doug, nobody will believe this, they’ll think we conspired to juice up the Chat!  We didn’t!!

But getting back to this beautiful story- I’ve been holding off from saying that your title “Traces in the Winter Sky is for me a series of charcoal brushstrokes done long and lazy against a lavender-gray sky.  There’s your book cover.  Go for it!

Read Traces in the Winter Sky by Doug Bond

Monday Chat is a bi-weekly series in which Susan Tepper has a conversation with a Fictionaut writer about one of his or her stories. Susan is Assistant Editor of Istanbul Literary Review and hosts FIZZ, a reading series at KGB Bar.

  1. David James

    This is a great, textured interview, chock full of intelligent questions that focus and give light to the inside of Doug’s excellent story. And, Doug is forthcoming, sharing his aesthetic considerations as he put it together. To me, this interview is a story itself. A very good story. Kudos to you both.

  2. Gary Percesepe

    here’s to orion, blinded for love (is there another kind?)

    and to doug, helluva writer

    nice job, both u–

  3. estelle bruno

    I still love this story, makes me think of a giant red star.

    Susan, you sure know how to choose the best writers for your chat.

    stars to you both

  4. Julie

    Great interview with a great, great writer. Thank you both!

  5. Quenby Larsen

    I’ve been waiting for Doug’s book for a while, Susan, so glad you mentioned it! He’s got a great sense of narrative pacing that is easy on a reader’s ear and this story showcased it so beautifully. I could listen to this voice for a long, long while. Thank you Doug, thank you Susan. What a terrific interview series.

  6. susan tepper

    Doug, did you see this– Quenby has been waiting for your book!

  7. Meg Tuite

    Doug- Excellent story! It was like music! And Susan, great questions! You read well into this story and pulled out what we wanted to know as readers!!
    Beautifully done, both of you!
    Love this interview series!

  8. meg pokrass

    This interview IS like a story in itself, absolutelyl. Kudos to both of you for working together like music.

  9. Doug Bond

    wow! thanks for all the kind words. And thank you Susan. Monday Chat is a terrific feature, a great way to get better acquainted with a Fictionaut(er) and one of their stories. Appreciate the opportunity to take part in the forum.

    Yikes, Quenby, if you’re waiting for a book, i better get busy. Someone i know just bundled 88 Damn, Sure, Fine ones into a marvelous collection. I’d do well to get over that bar :)

  10. LindaS-W

    Wonderful interview. Doug, your amazing responses to Susan’s equally amazing questions added even more layers to the story (which I loved on the 1st and 2nd reads). I had forgotten about Orion being blinded, though I understood early on your protag lacked sight himself.

    I learned so much here — thank you both! Peace…

  11. Jane Hammons

    Interesting to hear how the story took shape over time. Openings are important anyway, but especially in very short pieces, I think. The title also works as a very visual introduction or set up to this one. The interview itself is a wonderful story–visual, musical, very interesting.

  12. susan tepper

    Jane, I wanted to comment on your comment about titles. I so much agree that Doug’s title makes a strong visual intro to this story, and the title is an important part of this story’s “set up”– which, like you said, has to be done fairly quickly in a short piece of fiction.

  13. Matt Potter

    This was fun, especially the Appalaichian Spring reference and you talking about juicing up the Chat! It made the interview seem quite real and personal.

  14. Doug Bond

    thank you Linda and Jane for your insights and comments re: interview and story.

    Susan — i never got to tell you how much i love your visual image re: the title. I struggle with titles, or feel unimaginative, just grabbing a phrase from the narrative. This story “titled” itself long before i finished it.

    Matt — it was really quite a moment when i saw Susan’s question come through on email referencing Copland…i was like, “Huh?” how’d she know? But then again she is Madame Tishka :)

  15. susan tepper

    HA! This is true, Doug, I AM Madame Tishka…
    Sees all, knows all…
    Look out you future Chat-ees, Tishka will unveil your darkest secrets… ooooh…
    What will the stars reveal next?

  16. Jim Valvis

    Terrific tale and talk.

  17. susan tepper

    Jim, thanks so much. It was a fun and enlightening experience chatting with Doug who is such a great guy.

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