Exploring the art of prose


Author: Robert Ren

Author’s Note

At its origin, I wanted a story that risked compassion for some loathsome characters and I suppose the only way I could do that was to have everyone play a little against the archetypes we’ve all seen before. The Alchemist and the Assassin are neatly labeled by their monikers, but they are unwieldy in their true natures and consequently are designed to push and pull at a narrator who is fully adrift in his loss.

Some things that resulted are unintentional. We are situated with the narrator in a house that is haunted and therefore, there is a touch of the gothic, the sense of repression unearthed. This operates between the dual possibilities of romantic redemption and of succumbing to death and destruction. The tension between these possibilities helps sustain the story, despite a relatively simplistic plot.

Then, the only other thing I intentionally wanted was a narrative in which all the main characters are Asian, to create a through line of sympathy between characters who are very different yet similar in the way they stand out in this Midwest environment. It is also cultural wish fulfillment.

I often seek many friends to critically assess my stories and offer feedback, but for the most part, I wrote this story quite furtively and did not ask for comments. In part, this was because the story explores some personal concerns and I cannot help but suspect that vulnerability is what drives this story beyond my original intentions.

I am hesitant to offer craft advice, especially anything that can be taken too literally or broadly. A story demands its own attention; its craft is inherently specific. However, the only thing I firmly believe when it comes to writing a story is that it should not be easy to contain within its original parameters and design. There must be some element of discovery. I returned to this story over and over for a long time. It felt perpetually unfinished and that was the draw for me. I hope there is a similar draw for you as readers.


ROBERT REN is a PhD fiction fellow at Black Mountain Institute/University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He has a BA from the University of Chicago and an MFA from Columbia University. He is also the assistant fiction editor of Witness literary journal.