From the author
Notes on “Sine Die”
Years ago I saw a video clip of a man with a severe form of anterograde amnesia, and I suppose that’s when the idea for “Sine Die” began to germinate. As potential fiction, though, it seemed a little much, too rife with potential for melodrama or cliché. I kept thinking, “You’re going to write an amnesia story? Really?” But I’ve come to realize that as a writer I’m fascinated by aftermath, by ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. All those rare, one-in-a-million things do happen to someone, after all. The events themselves—the violence, the accidents, the misfortunes—are interesting to me, but not half as interesting as what happens afterward to the people involved.
A lot of the elements in “Sine Die” seemed to come together almost serendipitously. For example, when I first started writing the piece, I chose to make Jeremiah a Congressman for the simple reason that I served as a U.S. House of Representatives Page when I was in high school, and I wanted to use details from that experience in a story. In those early stages I wasn’t sure it mattered that he was a politician; it seemed almost beside the point. But as I continued writing and began to realize that so much of “Sine Die” is about identity, his vocation became vitally important. Jeremiah is straddling these two worlds—political Washington and the rural West—that expect very different things from him, very different personas, and Ella is also struggling with those dual identities (and her own divergent roles as dutiful political wife and self-sufficient horsewoman) even before Jeremiah’s illness further complicates their lives.
I’m in my final year of grad school as I write this, and as a young writer at the beginning of my career, I’m fortunate to receive advice from many older and wiser authors. I always appreciate that advice, and usually take it to heart, but in writing “Sine Die,” I dispensed with one particular piece: the suggestion that short stories ought not to be longer than 15 pages or so if you want to publish them. Of course it can be difficult to find markets that will read longer submissions, and even more difficult to get a story with a high word count accepted. But I’ve always gravitated toward longer works of fiction, and with “Sine Die,” the past, present, and future are equally vital to the story. I knew I’d need time to bring all three to the page.
Notes on Reading
There are a number of books that always inspire me to write, in an immediate, get-up-off-your-behind-and-go-fire-up-the-laptop kind of way. Ron Hansen’s Atticus is such a book, as is Larry Watson’s Montana 1948. Just about anything by Cormac McCarthy or Michael Ondaatje have the same effect. My only complaint is that these authors so inspire me that I rarely get to read more than a few pages of their work at a time—I just have to go write right now.
I love fiction that relies heavily on place and landscape. I can’t say enough good things about Tim Gautreaux’s The Clearing. I also love Mary Lawson’s The Other Side of the Bridge and Joseph Boyden’s Three Day Road. I’m particularly interested in literature of the American West, and I’ve recently been wowed by Thomas Savage’s The Power of the Dog.
I’ll be the first to admit I read far more novels than short stories. That said, there are some short stories I could (and do) read over and over again. Among them are “Silver Water” by Amy Bloom, “In the Gloaming” by Alice Elliot Dark, and, perhaps most of all, “Runaway” by Alice Munro. If I ever write a story half as masterful as “Runaway,” I’ll be a very happy author indeed.
Originally published in Willow Springs 71
About Sarah Hulse
Sarah Hulse grew up in Spokane, Washington, and earned a B.A. in English from the University of Montana. She has worked as a U.S. House of Representatives page, a veterinary assistant, and a high school English teacher. Currently, she teaches an undergraduate fiction workshop at the University of Oregon, where she is an M.F.A. candidate. “Sine Die” is her first publication; her fiction is forthcoming in Witness and Salamander. She is at work on her first novel.