Storyglossia Issue 38, February 2010.

An Interview with Randal Gentry


Randal Gentry's short story, "Cottonmouths," appears in Storyglossia 38. Here, Randal takes a few moments to discuss the story's origins, creating authentic dialogue, the world of the story, and what he's currently at work on


Anne Valente: Where did the premise for this story come from?


RG: When I was growing up, in a very southern central-Florida town, there was an awful lot of obligatory fighting in the schools and neighborhoods, a lot of social unrest generally, and an outgrowth of that was the possibility for someone with a grievance to pay a dollar or two to have someone beaten up. Travis in this story is on the receiving end of one of these deals. But I wanted to portray that violence as a routine aggravation and not central to his life, so it's not made explicit what the grievance is. He's not even aware enough to be outraged, and there's probably no chance he's told an adult of his predicament. He just accepts it.


AV: The dialogue here feels just right for young boys. How did you get the voices just right while you were writing?


RG: Well, I hope I got them sort of right. When boys are away from adult ears they just have the mouths of sailors, for one thing. That may be unfair to sailors, of course. But it hasn't changed. They curse, insult and threaten each other constantly. This is how they communicate. It can be really tiring to them, but they keep it up because in many cases it's the only way they know.


AV: The world these boys live in is fairly violent, with "everything eating something else," as Travis says—dog eat dog, wherein the boys' most violent tendencies are on full display. How much is the world in this story inherently violent, and how much of it is some sense of masculine youth?


RG: I think, going back to that central-Florida town, there was a lot of real violence, human violence, even in the midst of natural beauty and other positive things. And part of the sense of violence stemmed from the natural world itself. The boy hunting for cottonmouths in the canal was a real thing. Venomous snakes were common, and there were plenty of buyers for them. We swam in springs where full-grown alligators swam, and there were boys who would tackle a young alligator, two or three feet long, to see how long they could hold the mouth in one hand and the tail in the other. (Not long.) But from all this came a sense that violence was very natural.


AV: Though Travis endures violence throughout the story, there seems to be some hope for him in the end. Do you view the ending as a move away from this violent world, a coming-of-age from childhood, or perhaps something else entirely?


RG: A decision to get the hell out of that whole cycle, I think, and a realization that getting out is not entirely possible. But also a glimpse of beauty itself, the world as a moving image and not just a ravenous body, as providing a way out, or at least a way of establishing different terms for oneself.


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


RG: It so happens that another story with Travis in it, but narrated from his father's point of view, appears in the current Adirondack Review ). Otherwise I've completed a collection of stories and I'm working on a novel.


Randal Gentry's stories have appeared recently in The Green Hills Literary Lantern, Mangrove Review and The Adirondack Review, and another was a finalist in the New Letters fiction prize. His poems appear now and then in a number of journals. He lives with his wife and children in New Jersey.