Mary Akers: We were thrilled to have your short story Bigwig in this issue, Brian. I’m sure there’s an interesting story behind the story. Could you share with our readers how Bigwig came about?
Brian: The first draft of “Bigwig” is almost twenty years old. Conception of the story came while I was keeping a dream journal. I can’t remember the dream entirely now, but it had to do with boats on the St. Lawrence River, where the story is set.
The beginning of the story was vastly different from the way it appears today; essentially, it was a narrative within a narrative where one character is telling a story to another character with the consequences of that story weighing on the relationship between the two. I can’t tell you how many times I submitted that story to journals only to have it rejected; two editors wrote back saying they couldn’t understand the significance of the opening and closing scenes to the middle part of the story.
Nevertheless, I refused to change it and eventually gave up, stuffing the story into a desk draw. Then a year ago I worked with the wonderful writer Katherine Vaz, who was writer-in-residence at Wichita State University. I worked on a different story with her and found her editing made the story better. I learned a lot from her – like how to be brutal when editing your own stories. As writers, I think we can sometimes obsess over the details and lose focus on the “big” picture. Afterwards I returned to “Bigwig” and finally cut that opening scene and altered the ending, sent it out again, and bang, it was accepted at r.kv.r.y. I am very happy that “Bigwig” finally found a home here.
MA: Wow. Twenty years from conception to publication. Now that’s commitment to your story. Would you consider yourself a stubborn writer?
Brian: Or persistent? But perhaps I am stubborn, or just slow on the uptake. Of course, I’m familiar with Faulkner’s advice: writers must be willing to kill their darlings. I was just trying to make “Bigwig” more complicated than it needed to be. What remains now is a rather basic story in terms of plot that works.
MA: I think it’s very helpful to be stubborn as a writer. In fact, unless you’re one of the lucky few who manage to hit every literary green light, you’ll never get widely published without being stubborn. Do you have other stories stuffed in desk drawers ready to hit the submission road?
Brian: I have much work stuffed in desk drawers, but I’m better now at consistently sending work out. I’m always working on something. I’m working on my first novel as well as a collection of nature essays, and I have enough material for at least two collections of short stories.
MA: Nice. So what’s the novel about?
Brian: Well, it’s a road novel set between 2007 and 2012, during the financial fiasco and ensuing housing bust. It’s a story about people on the road – some living on the road by choice and others by necessity – but at its heart, it’s a story about family and community and connections.
MA: Have you done any travel in the course of researching this novel?
Brian: You could say that. I’ve chosen a rather nomadic life, at least temporarily. A few years after my divorce, I decided to sell my house and travel the country. I have a small professional writing business that provides some income and allows me mobility. I can say I’ve seen a lot of this country from the big cities to the small towns to remote backcountry locations, and I’ve met many interesting people along the way.
MA: Do you have any plans to settle down and write from one place in particular?
Brian: Eventually I’ll settle in one location again. I miss the sense of community, and I’d like to find a teaching job. I really enjoy teaching.
MA: Thank you for your time, Brian, and for sharing your fine work with us. I guess I’ll close by saying happy travels.
Brian: Same to you.