“Stories write themselves years before they appear on paper”–Elaine LaMattina

L&L: How and when did “The Weight” begin to take shape, and how did it evolve as you wrote?

ElaineLaMattina

Elaine LaMattina

In my experience, stories begin to write themselves years before they appear on paper. That was certainly the case with “The Weight.” Years ago, my abusive former husband told me that if I tried to take our three children and leave him, he’d kill me. When I finally got brave enough to leave, my attorney got an Order of Protection for me. I felt safe. Then my soon-to-be-ex broke into the house when I wasn’t there. I called the police and told them about his threat to kill me and was informed that they could do nothing. He hadn’t harmed me and because he still co-owned the house and had come in when he knew I wouldn’t be there, no violation of the order had occurred. I slept from then on with a baseball bat next to the bed, fully aware of its inadequacy. The next years were spent fighting him in court for child support. In the process, I met so many other women in the same situation. We were still being controlled by abusers who thought they could bankrupt us by forcing us to hire attorneys. We joked to one another that we’d have been better off if we’d killed our exes rather than divorced them. “The Weight” began to take shape.

When I began to write the story, I remembered how inadequate my baseball bat had seemed. I thought about how women are generally weaker than men. If a man intent on harming a woman can get within arm’s length, she has little chance of defending herself. I began to believe that we needed an equalizer, but I was completely ignorant about—and had a pathological fear of—guns.

When I was a kid, my sister and I were eating breakfast at the kitchen table in our second-floor flat when there was a terrible explosive sound. We heard Mom scream, followed shortly by pounding on our front door. It was Wes, who lived below us. He’d been cleaning his rifle—which he’d been certain was unloaded—and it went off. The bullet shot through his ceiling, our kitchen floor, and into our ceiling, missing us by inches. I grew into adulthood firmly convinced that no one should ever own a gun of any sort.

2012 marked a complete change in my ideas about guns. In July, the Aurora, Colorado, theater shooting horrified me. My husband and I did date night at the movies every Friday night, and now I was afraid to go. Then, just months later, came the Sandy Hook massacre. My grandchildren were in elementary school, my daughter a kindergarten teacher. There was talk once again about gun control, the same talk that had been going on since Columbine in 1999. And there was also talk about how different the outcomes would have been if just one person there had been armed and well-trained in gun use and safety.

Shortly after Sandy Hook, a neighbor with whom we were involved in a property dispute threatened to kill us. We called the sheriff and reported his threat and were told there was nothing he could do until the neighbor acted on the threat. Déjà vu. Twice those I thought would protect me couldn’t. The concept of gun as equalizer was no longer just part of a story. I was so over feeling helpless. I decided I needed to learn how to use a gun, and that training made its way into the story in the form of details I could only add after I had some familiarity with guns.

(to be continued)

Elaine LaMattina is the managing director of White Pine Press, a small literary publishing house in its forty-third year of bringing literature to readers from the United States and around the world. She also freelances as a fiction manuscript evaluator for the Korean Literature Translation Institute. She divides her time between Buffalo, New York, and Big Sur, California. Her work has been published in magazines, newspapers, and journals.

 

 

 

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Interview: Writer Sara Kay Rupnik discusses the gun in “An Act of Mercy”

SKRupnikL&L: How did “An Act of Mercy” evolve?

SKR: Anger triggered the story. I knew of a woman whose husband had left her; she was in the back of my mind, a friend of a friend; there had been no violence but she was convinced that he would come back. I lived in a very small town and everybody knew he had moved in with someone else. I was also angry at my own husband.  We have a good marriage, but you have to explore the limits of anger. I think the anger was there, when I wrote it. It was based on someone being so angry they thought they might kill someone, so I gave her that fantasy, and that fantasy. In the story, that gave her hope that of course he’d come back, she wouldn’t kill him, just make him suffer a little.

L&L: What else does this gun come to mean for her?

SKR:  When the character shops for the gun she’s already begged and pleaded. After such hurt, you can’t function. That anger at the beginning, that sense of justice at the beginning, violence, softens as the story goes on, but the gun was an extreme measure. She’s nervous about buying the gun and filling out the forms because she is still angry. The gun becomes a comfort to her, a security blanket.

L&L: The story counters the stereotype of men intimidating women with guns.

SKR:I didn’t think about that when I wrote it. When I started the story, I thought they were going to have a confrontation. And then, I thought, why would her husband come back? What occasion would cause him to come back? And I liked the way it went.

L&L: Where did you place the story?

SKR: Pennsylvania. A lot of people travel to the western Pennsylvania area to hunt. That worked out well, with the hunter, who appears later in the story. Initially, I knew nothing about the regulations, but I talked with a game warden, about the laws, and checked on gun regulations. At that time, [buyers] did need to fill out a form.

L&L: What do you think happened to the gun, after the story ends? I would imagine she’d still keep carrying it around—she wouldn’t carry it as a good luck charm to bring her husband back, she’d give up on that—but I think she’d still carry that gun around—something about the weight of it “weighed” her back to reality—until she felt even more grounded. She still would need that gun for awhile, she’d just automatically put it in her pocket. At the end, there’s hope she’s turned a corner, but I think she would have to have that gun for awhile; she’d  automatically put it in her pocket, there’s hope she’s turned a corner now.

Sara Kay Rupnik’s most recent short story, “When Lucinda Holloway Met J.W. Booth, April 1865,” appears in the September issue of The Write Launch.  Other stories have appeared in The Chautauqua Literary Journal, Persimmon Tree, and The American Literary Review. A collection of her work, Women Longing to Fly, was released in 2015 by Mayapple Press.  Rupnik received an MFA in Writing from Vermont College, and co-founded the Around the Block Writers Collaborative. She teaches creative writing for the Jekyll Island Arts Association.

 

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