He sighted down the barrel. He could see her legs moving, her arms pumping. She was wearing a billed cap, probably her 49ers hat, and she was running down a road on the other side of the forty-acre cleared…
This story began with gun racks. When I begin a story, I don’t plan its trajectory. I’m taken by a strong image, a scrap of dialogue, a faraway figure running past an empty field, some weird bird of thought or feeling that accretes detail once I start to write. Thoughts about process are mostly after the fact. I’m just grateful when a story hunts me down and nails me.
I’ve spent time in a part of California where there are farms. Almost every truck you see has a gun rack. The fields are irrigated—green in summer, blond stubble in the fall, and broad. Cattle. Wooded hills in the middle distance. The river, which barely escaped the destruction of gold-mining, suffers runoff from fertilizer and cattle. As I began to write, the place itself became a character.
I did have a plan (due to the gun racks) for my opening: to drop you, my reader and partner, directly into a violent moment, in medias res. A shock. Then a sort of trick (a bit of narrative violence, I suppose) in which this is revealed as a thought-film. So we arrive at the background topic of imagination and its entanglement with thought, feeling, intention. Something that’s fascinated me for a long time.
When is intention like a story? A successful story is a kind of trance, a hypnotic entry into somewhere else, taking you into a place you recognize, despite unfamiliar settings or a different language of behavior. How people, no matter how familiar or foreign to your experience, read each other, the world around them, the future, the now, whether chaotic or peaceful. You enter the thicket of other interior worlds. This is nothing new, of course—writing must always try to do this: round some corners, investigate basement or attic, hear the words flung out into wind. Entrance.
As for narrative perspective, I’m drawn to multiple points of view. It shouldn’t be easy to tell who’s at true north, who’s askew. The struggle of this pushes toward compassion. How feelings like anger and pain are two sides of a dangerous spinning coin. How hope hides in there somewhere. Still, stories each have their imperatives. You probably noticed that Wayne’s wife, who could be called the pivot of the story, certainly one of its two beating hearts, is only called “she.” She wouldn’t accept a name and kept her whiff of myth, though her life’s specific.
A bullet opens the story, but it isn’t “about” guns; it unrolls into the pain and confusion of what’s happening in what turns out to be an ancient shape of human relationship. But guns make me think, always, about the hunted. Wayne is hunted down by his own pain, which makes of him a hunter. She’s hunted by her own desire, the complexities of love, and freedom’s tangents. And then there’s us: writer and reader, hunting clarity or connection, navigating time’s violence and strange beauties, and wanting to make something of it.
TOBEY HILLER writes fiction, flash, and poetry. She’s the author of one novel and four collections of poetry, most recently Crow Mind (2020, Finishing Line Press). Her stories and poems have appeared widely in print and online in magazines such as Askew, Ambush, Canary, Sisyphus, Here Comes Everyone (HCE), The Fabulist: Words & Art, MusePie Press’s Shotglass Journal, Sin Fronteras (forthcoming), Spillway, The Racket, Unlikely Stories Mark V. Her writing, both fiction and poetry, has appeared in five anthologies, most recently Fire and Rain: Ecopoetry of California (Scarlet Tanager Press). She writes both realist and fabulist fiction, and three of her stories have been shortlisted for prizes (The Reynolds-Price Short Fiction Award, the Los Gatos-Listowel Short Story Contest, the Bosque Fiction Contest). Her collection of fabulist fiction Particle to Wave: A Fabulary was a finalist for Omnidawn’s 2019 Fabulist Fiction Contest. Currently she’s developing two collections of fiction, one realist, the other fabulist.