Originally published in Willow Springs 74

From the author

Notes on “Bandana”

I’d been working on another story for a while, this grim fantasy about the aftermath of a shooting, written from the perspective of a grieving father whose son had gone bad. The seriousness of the story just got to be too much for me. The father’s story felt too raw, his grief too complex for me to unwrap, and my whole approach just seemed unimaginative and obvious to me. I found myself writing around the tragedy, looking for other details to explore. I thought more and more about the son, and I kept coming back to this single idea: that we all start out good. We start off kind and vulnerable and trusting and goofy, with these fresh undamaged souls. I imagined the son, just a kid himself, knocking all that right out of another kid.

Notes on Reading

I’m a slow reader these days. I think it started when I discovered Pynchon, years back; it’s hard (and wrong) to read Pynchon quickly. But I’m trying to get faster, because I realized a few months ago that at the rate I’m going, I won’t actually live long enough to finish all the books on my reading list. It used to be that when I was in the middle of writing a story, I didn’t read much fiction because I worried about the influence on my own work. Now, I think it’s necessary just to keep me from getting boxed in and returning over and over to the same ideas and approaches.

I’m influenced by everyone, I think. Sometime it’s just a theme that resonates and sends me off on some tangent of my own, sometimes it’s the skill an author shows in teasing out character or subverting expectation, sometimes it’s just what a writer is able to do with a certain form. Last year, I read George Saunders’s “Sticks,” a two-page story from Tenth of December. You read that story and you shake your head, because you think it shouldn’t be possible for a two-page story to be so ridiculously moving. I wanted to understand how he was able to do that, to strip the story down to a narrative skeleton and still give it that kind of emotional richness. I realize the answer is, “Because he’s George Saunders,” but it got me experimenting with flash pieces myself, and trying to become more economical, to do more with every word.

Lately I’ve been reading a lot of short story writers. Karen Russell and Lorrie Moore, Saunders, DeLillo’s The Angel Esmerelda. I still have a stack of novels waiting for me, too, from Pynchon and Roth and Franzen and a dozen others. Plus, I still re-read a lot of old favorites: Vonnegut and Borges and Calvino and a lot of Shakespeare, which probably explains why the stack doesn’t get any shorter.

 


About Tom Howard

Tom Howard’s fiction has appeared recently in Quarter After Eight and Emrys Journal, and his stories have received the Tobias Wolff Award in Fiction, the Robert J. DeMott Short Prose Award, the Conium Review’s Innovative Short Fiction Award, and the Rash Award in Fiction. He lives with his wife in Arlington, Virginia, along with a strange, wonderful black dog named Harper.