Maria Robinson: Hi, Walter, thanks so much for giving us “Million Dollar Find” for this issue! I’d like to start with a question about your inspiration for the story. The antique “smalls” you mention—cigarette tins and “toogles” (what a great word!) and phone-dialers—are such immediate conduits to “the past that’s disappearing,” as Archie says to Maureen. As soon as the toogle was described, I found myself imaging a whole world around it. Were you inspired by a real-life “small”?
Walter Giersbach: Hi Maria, thanks for wanting to talk about “Million Dollar Find.” The story was generated by a writing prompt using the words “million dollar yard sale find.” A score of my stories published in recent years have been generated by prompts—good thought-provokers.
I hang out at flea markets, and used to drop off my daughter to work at a sweatshirt concession in Englishtown back in the late ‘80s. And I wandered the aisles in those days collecting fast-food drinking glasses. (I still have more than 300 in my attic.) The flea market is a field of dreams for the Saturday-morning searcher—a place where past and future meet and the unraveled pieces of lives are knit together. Often, the treasure found is unexpected.
For me, the poignancy of the story lay in a retired widower floating through his dwindling days until he stumbles into a possible relationship. Will it reach fruition? Perhaps. I hope that it also feels right that surprises come from unlikely places.
MR: Fast food drinking glasses–I remember those! I’m not surprised to learn that you have a personal relationship to flea markets and collecting given how deftly you captured those elements in your story. And I love that the “find” at the end—the connection between Archie and Maureen—is so different from the sort of find that we start out expecting.
I’m a writer, but I’ve never been a collector. For you, do the two have anything in common?
WG: There’s no connection, unless you count collecting rejection slips or filling a filing cabinet with published stories. Rather, the writing comes from inquiry into oddities: one of my stories, “Where’s Old Bill Hughes, Now” (published in World of Myth) came from an apocryphal story of a shipwreck survivor across the decades; another, “Misunderstood Identity” (Big Pulp) is a somewhat true story of an impersonator; and “Fish Stories and the Mermaid” (Bewildering Stories) is a speculative piece built off the fact that animals are adapting to humans. Currently, I’m trying to find a fictional way into prosopagnosia, the neurological condition that makes it tough to recognize people—and the reason why I walk right by old friends.
MR: That does sound like an interesting premise for a story. It seems like you’re rarely at a loss for subject matter! What’s your biggest challenge as a writer?
WG: The biggest challenge often isn’t creation, but editing. Several things need to take place as I exchange the creator’s metaphorical light bulb for the editor’s green eyeshade: 1) let the story marinate for a week, a month or even a year until I can dissect it dispassionately; 2) scrutinize every word, phrase and sentence to see if they meet my objective, carry the plot forward and advance my idea; 3) read the piece aloud to see where the flow is interrupted by writerly locutions that that are awkward; and 4) realize that for a good writer the story is rarely finished.
MR: So true! That reminds me of a quote from the poet Paul Valery that I often think of when I’m in the midst of revision: “In the eyes of those who anxiously seek perfection, a work is never truly completed—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned.”
Thanks again for taking the time to talk with me about your work, Walter. I’d like to end our interview with a question about the idea of “recovery”—could you tell us a little about how our theme resonated with you when you were deciding where to submit “Million Dollar Find”?
WG: Actually, an insight, when I realized Archie Mezinis was living through the trauma of being retired, losing a wife, and having little connection with his daughter-in-law. This “unrecovered” life was the theme that meshed.
R.kv.r.y. has an attention-grabbing premise to its focus. The act of recovery doesn’t have to be negative or morose in tone. It describes a lot of perfectly normal actions we go through without realizing we—or our fictional characters—aren’t living optimal or fulfilling lives. Maybe Archie and Maureen will find that heavenly connection without disappointing their friends or family or past.
MR: I hope so. Do you have any other work you’d like our readers to know about?
WG: Just a thought that “Million Dollar Find” is in keeping with my volumes of short stories. Crusing the Green of Second Avenue (Volumes I and II) were published by Wild Child Publishing and are also available at Barnes & Noble. There’s a lot of recovery–and some small regrets–in those stories.