Exploring the art of prose


Tag: Conflict

Interview: Tommy Dean

alt text: image is the cover of a book called HOLLOWS; title card for Jill Witty's new interview with Tommy Dean

  In Hollows, Tommy Dean’s first full-length flash fiction collection, the narrative lens captures everyday humans at a pivotal moment, where one decision will change everything. Three boys enter the woods carrying a gun. A divorced teacher borrows money from…

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We the Liars by Sam Simas

  1997 James James steadied the table as Augie reached into the hazy air to disarm the smoke detector. The hem of Augie’s new sweatshirt lifted away from his stomach, and James glimpsed his hip bones, the bumps of his…

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Wolf Girls by Allie Dokus

  At the time, she was Xandra. The decapitated torso of Alexandra. Her given name was Mary, but do you see Marys anywhere but behind the fluorescent Market Basket checkout, looking depressed and forty? September, seventh grade, the Latin teacher…

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Author’s Note

I knew a little boy who was given away by his birth mother. I always thought about his biological relatives, the people contained inside the boy. I often wondered who owned the perpetual glint in his eyes, the cup that formed in his forehead, and the shallow lines that carved on his chin when he smiled. These little thoughts massed in my head as I penned the story of No One, a spectral character caught on the front lines of circumstance. I explored the absence the narrator must feel and her lack of power to reclaim what was hers. There is a passiveness to the narrator’s voice. I made this intentional choice to portray the numbness most humans resort to in the face of repeated tragedies. At first, I saw only the young woman, faceless, nameless. But I encountered the babies and then immersed myself into the protagonist’s feelings. I rummaged through heaps of emotions to find her hardened, her fire long put out. She understood loss much more than freedom. The cage she lived in was too lethal. I yearned to set her free.

The first draft of this story focused only on the protagonist and reflected a narrowed view of the protagonist’s life. The illegal business of selling babies was abetted by individuals who were largely absent in the first draft. It was important to bring them and their relationships with the protagonist into the story, and to explore if the protagonist’s insecurities were reechoed in their company. I invented a flashback that unveiled the quick transition from her normal life as a pupil to the complex one she led with “her aunt.”

The protagonist’s position in the story is that of emotional absence, because she is not expected to feel. However, something tender and warm continued to grow inside her after each baby was taken. Despite her willful participation in the sale of her first baby, her innocence radiated off her. Her tragedies did not dismantle this innocence. They only served to offer up a resigned version of herself: a traumatized young woman whose sense of self has been shrunk. Even freedom finds her hesitant.


FRANCES OGAMBA is the winner of the 2020 Inaugural Kalahari Short Story Competition and the 2019 Koffi Addo Prize for Creative Nonfiction. She is also a finalist for the 2019 Writivism Short Story Prize and 2019 Brittle Paper Awards for short fiction. Her fiction appears in Chestnut Review, CRAFT, The Dark Magazine, Jalada Africa, The /tƐmz/ Review, and elsewhere. She is an alumna of the Purple Hibiscus Creative Writing Workshop taught by Chimamanda Adichie.