Friday, December 18, 2009

An Interview With Nick Ostdick

Nick Ostdick’s short story, “True Hair,” appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Here, Nick takes the time to discuss the use of second-person, Poison as inspiration for the story, the process of creating images and theme in this piece, and his current work at Southern Illinois University.

Anne Valente: Why did second-person feel like the right choice for this story?

Nick Ostdick: Second-person felt right for this story for a couple of reasons. I think the first and perhaps most uncraft-like answer is because the story and the characters just wanted it to be that way; various other points of view were attempted in earlier drafts, and none of them really hit it the way I thought--and ultimately the way the characters thought---it needed to be hit. It was a gut decision in the end. But more than that, I really felt that this narrator would be so hesitant to tell this story, so terrified by it in a sense, that he would need something to hide behind, some kind of artifice. This need to hide away or create something temporary or fake really seemed to rest hand in hand with who he was too. Hopefully the use of second-person gives him that distance. He manages to keep everything else at arms length, so why wouldn't he keep the telling of this story there too? And lastly, when I trace this story back to it's roots, which is almost two years ago now, the second-person came about because the story was spawned from Poison's ‘Talk Dirty to Me.’ I was fascinated with the uber-hyped masculinity in that song and in so much of 80's hair metal, except I wanted to flip that--I wanted a female character who embodied that bravado, or in this case, rumored bravado.

AV: You do a really nice job of capturing the conflict between imagined versus real - the narrator's expectations of Connie, how he really wants to believe the rumors about her, and what she's actually like. What role does this conflict play in the story, for you?

NO: Well, I think that this idea of imagined versus real plays a big role in the story—I don’t think it plays much of a role for me, but for the characters it’s huge. Especially for my unnamed POV character. He’s attempting to create a separate world for himself, to invent a place for him to hide not only from the ‘real world’ but from his ‘real world’ self too. You see that with him fleeing to the Conservatory, with his creation of this whole other reality. The same goes for these rumors about Connie—if he buys into them, even though he knows they’re most likely not true, he’s managed to create an alternate take on what’s really happening, on who people really are. For me, the build up of rumors about Connie and his quickness to believe them are symptoms of a bigger issue that this character is trying—or perhaps not trying—to deal with. He’s, in a somewhat subtle way, losing a toehold on reality.

AV: Though it's a small moment, I absolutely love the notion of the narrator hiding in the Conservatory exhibits and crying. How did this image come to you?

NO: That scene was part of another story for some time. Actually that scene was the entire story, a story of a middle-aged man who was hiding in a Conservatory and creating an alternate world after the death of his wife. I was writing both ‘True Hair’ and this other story over the same period of time, and at some point it hit me that these stories and the characters were running on parallel tracks so to speak—both of the principle characters were very similar and dealing with very similar things, albeit at different points in their lives and in different ways, but they were driving toward the same destination. Eventually, this other story started to fail for a number of reasons, but the idea of someone seeking refuge from the outside world in a faux jungle environment really stuck with me. After some thought it struck me that perhaps this was something the principle character in ‘True Hair’ would do. It was something active, yet something completely delusional as well, and it seemed like the kind of thing that was suited for someone younger, someone with a stronger sense of naivete.

AV: Both characters are tentative in forging some connection, both scarred by their parents' mistakes, both unsure that love exists. How does love - or fear of love - underscore the story for you?

NO: I think that the question of whether love exists or not is huge for these two characters, these two people. And to me, that’s what the story is about: a very quiet moment where these two people sort of acknowledge that it does exist, that it almost has to for what happens at the end of the story to happen—for two semi-fucked up people to find a moment of understanding. Whether or not they think it’s love, I think the ending forces these people to realize that there is something tender accessible in the world. I think you’re right that there is definitely a fear there between them and that they’re both very aware of it, but the fact that they both wanted to take that chance says a lot to me.

AV: That last scene where Connie and the narrator try on wigs is fantastic. How did wigs come to be the perfect element for this ending?

The ending with the wigs was the last piece of the story to fall into place. I wrote a first draft of this story about two years ago, and then did some light revision before letting it sit for some time. Then over this past summer I came back to it and found that everything up until the last scene was what it needed to be; I knew that whatever shape that last scene was going to take would be crucial, especially given what I was trying to say with the story. The scene with the two of them trying on the wigs actually took place in the middle of the story in early drafts, and after some months of trying to craft an ending and coming up empty, I decided to rewrite the story backwards in order to find it. It was when I did that that I realized the story needed to end there—that in order to show these characters accepting each other and some sort of kinship that exists in the world, having them essentially become other people in a very superficial manner made sense. They’re themselves, but they’re just cloaked enough to be vulnerable with each other, to hide a bit. That last scene was actually a huge turning point in the writing of this story; once I had that, everything seemed to fall into place very quickly, over the course of another month or so.

AV: What are you currently working on? Any stories forthcoming that we can point readers to?

NO: Right now I’m currently working on my MFA at Southern Illinois University, which is plenty to have on my plate—taking classes, teaching freshman composition, writing, etc. I’m currently working on a number of stories that I hope at some point will become a collection, most of which are longer, more traditional short stories, but I’m also working on a number of shorter pieces that I hope to send out for publication soon—perhaps this spring. In terms of forthcoming work, this story is it for right now, and I have to say how stoked I am to have it published in Storyglossia. It’s a very fine publication, one I’ve admired for some time, and I’m honored to be included with so many great writers. This interview was real boss as well, so many thanks. Many thanks indeed.

Nick Ostdick
is in the MFA program at Southern Illinois University, where he also teaches. His fiction and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in Prairie Margins, Annalemma, Night Train, Pindeldyboz, Anthills, and elsewhere, and his story 'The Sleeping Shags,' originally published in Identity Theory, was a 2007 StorySouth Notable Story. Sometimes he has a beard; currently, he does not.

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