Exploring the art of prose


Author: Tammy Zhu

Author’s Note

I was listening to Clean Bandit’s “Rockabye” on repeat and reading Joan Didion. One line struck me in particular. In the aftermath of her daughter’s death, Didion wrote, “When we talk about mortality, we’re talking about our children.” The sentence struck me because it’s true, and I suddenly realized how my parents see the world. It explained why my mom texts me to be careful every time a robbery happens in her neighborhood (which is 400 miles away from mine) and why my dad sent me a yellow safety vest last year to wear while taking evening walks. It made me want to write a story about a protective, caring parent, but told from the point of view of the child.

I put the child—a young adult—in a not-so-safe situation and asked: How does her parent’s protectiveness filter through her? How does it affect her decisions, if at all? Though the narrator says she’s released herself from her father’s grip, can she escape it? We have a good sense of how an average parent would feel about the narrator’s situation in this story—concerned and anxious. But how a grown child would react in the same situation is less obvious. This dilemma is what the story attempts to explore.

The story is the product of countless choices. In earlier drafts, I made the man more unattractive, shady, and disgusting—to heighten the sense of danger and to show that the narrator turned to the man only as a means of escape rather than attraction. I toned that down because the man was overpowering the story. In earlier drafts, the narrator was more passive. The man sidled up to her, hit on her, kissed her. Eventually, I decided that the narrator should make the first move, and she should be the one to initiate the kiss. That’s her way of finding a distraction, her attempt to forget the thing weighing on her mind. In earlier drafts, the story included a couple switches in point of view. The paragraph starting with the dad on the glider was narrated in a third-person close point of view on the dad, intended to be the narrator imagining her dad’s longings and fears. The last paragraph switched to a second-person point of view, meant to put the reader more directly in the narrator’s shoes. But these switches got messy.

One thing I knew I wanted was to write a story set in one place but whose narrator is distracted or troubled by something else in a separate time and space. Dan O’Brien does this beautifully in “Crossing Spider Creek,” as does Minyoung Lee in “The Tiki Cabana.” A story about crossing a dangerous creek is actually about a character’s longing for his wife. A story about finding a pen on a beach is actually about the narrator’s remorse about his wife’s death. I find these stories so captivating, moving, and real.


TAMMY ZHU is a writer living in San Francisco, California. She enjoys writing stories about family relationships and immigrant experiences. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Brilliant Flash Fiction and Popshot Magazine and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. When she is not writing, Tammy enjoys singing, dancing, and sharpening a host of other skills she was not born with.