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.