“Little Green Devils” a short story by James Winter, appeared in Issue 23 and can be read here.
We’d love to hear more about this story.
I wrote this story last summer with a feeling for the voices of the characters. There was something natural about them that came to me after the first line. Emma’s openness about her history of abductions had to be balanced by the narrator’s fear of vulnerability. It’s what they are both afraid of, really, but the narrator needed to have baggage. As he says, he’s been through therapy, gone to group meetings, the works. And it didn’t work. He’s still on the run both inside and outside of himself. When I figured this out about him, I knew what I was really writing about was trauma and how the victimized grapple with victimhood and use it to further protect themselves.
What was the most difficult part of writing this piece?
It was really difficult not to insert backstory into the narration. Originally, I had about three pages of it. The narrator was troubled. He was a foster child. He bounced from home to home. Then the aliens abducted him. Ugh.
The backstory felt like me having to justify the fact that my story is taking the trauma of alien abduction seriously. I felt, well, maybe the reader needs to feel badly for him a bit more. In the end, it was a relief to cut it. Now, you get a few lines about it from the narrator and that’s it. I realized such backstory was not respecting the reader’s intelligence. It was handholding.
I also wanted to make sure the reader never felt these characters were a joke. I certainly wanted the story to be funny. I was laughing while I was writing, but the narrator and Emma are so serious about themselves and the alien abductions. If the trauma is real to them, it needs to be real to the story. The story needs to respect it, too.
That was freeing, as it allowed me to reach for the narrator’s unwillingness to make a lasting connection with people, especially women. That’s the heart of the story, I think. Those of us who have been so shaken by trauma are mostly unwilling to be anything but withdrawn and protective. The hurt is still there. The hurt is like home, in a way.
Recommend a book for us which was published within the last decade.
Kiss Me Someone by Karen Shepard. Every story in that collection is whip-smart, funny, and crafted so well. Several will make you so uncomfortable you’ll have to reread them to make sure there isn’t something wrong with you.
If you could have a drink with any living author, who would it be? Why?
Cormac McCarthy. He was my first favorite author when I started seriously reading as an undergrad. His Border Trilogy is his best, I think. I’d love to talk to him about how his sentences and also how he moved from the South to New Mexico and the affect it had on the most of the second half of his work.
What are you working on now? What’s next?
I feel like this should be a t-shirt: “I’m finishing a collection and working on a novel.”
Our thanks to James for taking the time to answer a few questions and share his work. Read Winter’s story, “Little Green Devils,” here: https://www.sequestrum.org/fiction-little-green-devils.
James Winter is an Associate Professor of English at Kent State University. His fiction has won the CRAFT Short Fiction Prize, a Pushcart Special Mention, an Honorable Mention for the J.F. Powers Prize, and was a finalist for the Frank McCourt Memoir Prize. It has been published in One Story, Salamander, PANK Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, and Dappled Things, among others.