Unique voices share a home in this new anthology.
The idea for The Night of the Flood¸ the novel-in-stories I co-edited and contributed a story to (out now!), was birthed in 2016. The messy campaigns for president had left the country seething, and that anger — perhaps subconsciously, in some cases — informed our work.
The 14 contributors took pains early on to ensure that our fictional town of Everton, gripped in riots after an intentional flood, didn’t become an orgiastic bloodbath. And, as co-editors, Sarah M. Chen and I did our best to ensure that every story was distinct.
The book has been nicely reviewed by both trade journals and bloggers, and Sarah and I have received some lovely kudos. And, truthfully, our job was a bit easier than it sounds, which is the benefit of working with gifted writers. Similarity in theme — my greatest concern when the idea was conceived — wasn't an issue.
Instead, what struck me as we went through each story was how nimbly, and uniquely, writers played with stark, topical issues.
With that in mind, I wanted to ask four of the contributors what led to their stories and how societal issues factored in:
Hilary Davidson: “One of my closest friends almost died at the hands of her husband, and her experience still haunts me. Her husband was arrested and briefly jailed, but served very little time. For me, the case highlighted how society easily accepts certain kinds of violence. Harm a stranger, and you’re a monster; harm your wife, and you can still be a fine fellow. When I was writing ‘The Darkest Hour,’ I was thinking of how abused women have the deck stacked against them. My main character is under pressure to keep up a relationship with her abusive ex because of their children. To do that, she has to deny to herself how bad his abuse really was.”
Shannon Kirk: “At its core, the theme of ‘Carter Hank Takes a Sedative at 1 in the A.M.’ is lawlessness, of an individual selfishly flipping the middle finger to any societal rules in order to satiate his own needs. Here, rage. This should give a sense of chaos, every man for himself, herself. In our current political environment, we have, conservatively counting, over a dozen major criminal/ethical/personal scandals in the Trump White House, a constant bleeding of White House staff, a major investigation into Trump and his family, serious and legitimate allegations of emoluments violations, Trump's attacks on our courts, his attacks on a free press, his threats of starting nuclear war. This is lawlessness, a sense of total chaos. It's like the class voted the most derelict hamster in the cage to be class president. No one is in charge. I have been having a feeling of hopelessness about all of this, that I am here alone to protect myself and my family. And there is no doubt that that feeling led to the sense of lawlessness and chaos in this story.”
J.J. Hensley: “In ‘The Copy Man,’ the man working behind the counter of a copy shop is confronted by a group of armed terrorists who have proclaimed to be willing to die for their cause. Of course, claiming to be willing to give one’s life for a cause is a lot different than actually doing so, and this world has no shortage of mock martyrdom. Leaders of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS. Drug lords. Nearly every knucklehead you've heard claim they would run into a burning building or confront a school shooter, although they've never actually faced mortal danger. Most bullies will bluff when holding a pair of threes, but eventually someone at the table is going to call.”
Gwen Florio: “One of the most fascinating things about disaster is the way it can be a great leveler, devastating the privileged and poor alike. It can even upend things, given that the poor might have better survival skills in the face of sudden privation. I wanted to play with that idea in my story, ‘Marta,’ where a Mexican servant takes charge to protect her wealthy employer and herself. Also, in a different lifetime, I wrote several stories about the hundreds of women assaulted and murdered with impunity in Ciudad Juarez, and their words apparently have stayed with me.”