Exploring the art of prose


Author: Pete Stevens

Author’s Note

I’ve written before about impetus, a beginning, or an origin story. The origin story for “Riders” starts with my friend and literary coconspirator, Tyler Barton. We are both admirers of Robert Lopez’s work, so he suggested that we each write a story for the contest and then workshop them together—and that’s what we did. It still baffles me that Tyler’s challenge resulted in both of us having our stories named as finalists and selected for publication. And yet, back at the beginning, when the challenge was accepted, I had a story to write and didn’t know what I was going to write about. What I had was an itch to write long sentences built with short clauses and repetition. This itch wasn’t exactly new, but it was there, and what remained was a void to fill—a story, characters, conflict. At the time, I was working as a nonemergency medical driver to supplement my income as an adjunct. The stories from that job, the experiences, the heartaches, found their way into my story. I’d gone to dialysis appointments and taken guys to methadone clinics early in the morning. I’d spent countless hours on the road. And just like the narrator in my story, I listened. I stepped back and thought about my experiences, and each trip, each passenger, was like a piece of a mosaic, with the final picture being some distillation that ended up as “Riders.” Now I had form, sentence structure, and content, but I didn’t know exactly what would happen. I still can’t answer why what happened in the story happened; all I did was write. Years ago, as a new writer, I had a habit of writing an entire story in my head—start to finish—before I ever put a word to the page. I now try to fight that urge. I am of the belief that if the story is not a surprise to the writer, then it will not be a surprise to the reader. I want that “click of a well-made box” and if the ending doesn’t “stab the reader in the heart”—if the reader isn’t held hostage, gripped, maybe caught in the sentences, their attention pulled and strained, as if, like the characters in the story, they are struggling to breathe—you’re not going to get that click.


PETE STEVENS is the author of Tomorrow Music, winner of Map Literary’s Rachel Wetzsteon Chapbook Award (2021). His fiction has appeared in AGNI, Hobart, and Copper Nickel, among others. His story “Oral History…” was named as a Best American Short Stories 2021 Distinguished Story, and he will have a story in the forthcoming anthology from W. W. Norton, Flash Fiction America (2023). He can be found online @petebiblio.