How can you be so filthy, Patti? someone asked.
How can you be so foul, Patti? another asked.
And yet a third: How can you be so weak, Patti?
“’Sn’t fault…st…stop,” Patti slurred. Her words wouldn’t form themselves, since her tongue was a rotten peach in her mouth. Her brain squelched in her head, three pounds of peanut butter mixed with marshmallow spread. “Hurts, stop.”
Patti, this is disgusting! How can you do this, Patti?
“Goway. Wantoo sleep…sleepy…tired…heads ache…cut off the TV Sue…noisy...”
Thoughts and sensations floated up and sank, bobbed up and swam below, miniature marshmallows in slimy, viscous hot chocolate.
Patti tried to grab them, but the few she could hold either dissolved through her fingers or burned, stinging her and searing her already throbbing mind.
But the aching voices, the nibbling hunger, ignored her. Images, memories, played in a shaky loop through haze and funhouse reflections.
Do you want some more cake, Patti? someone asked her, snickering. Huh, Patti? Want some more? C’mon Patti, there’s a few crumbs left, a little icing on the edge of the plate…go on ’n lick it clean. You know you wanna, huh? Go on, no one’s watching after all…no one’ll know, Patti, and aren’tcha so hungry, Patti?
Patti McLean lay in her sagging La-Z-Boy, sagging deep into the tired cushions and springs, much of her massive 625-pound body sagging and spilling out over the padding and fabric. Her eyelids fluttered, creeping open from time to time, and drool trickled lazily from the corner of her mouth, down one chin, then a second, and then a third, at last falling onto her polka-dotted shirt as she lay, twitching and muttering through spit bubbles and phlegm and chocolate residue.
The TV was on in front of her, turned to one of the food channels, the volume turned low so that the chef whispered instructions on how to get the top of the crème brûlée caramelized just perfectly…like so…and voila! But Patti no longer could watch the chef’s culinary adroitness, could no longer salivate with Pavlovian precision. Patti McLean was no longer here.
The trailer was a mess, with food wrappers and papers and clothes and empty two-liter bottles of Diet Coke and Fresca scattered around on chairs, tables, and countertops, piled up on the brindle-colored pile carpet. It smelled like stale bread with an undertone of dollar-store air freshener. A navigable trail snaked its way through the clutter and smog, wide enough for the trailer’s extra-wide inhabitant and her cane.
The cane itself stood sentry, always within arm’s reach, beside Patti in her sagging recliner. It was the extra-sturdy kind, with a square metal base and four rubber-shoed feet, the better to stabilize her with. And Patti needed it. She could still get up and walk, miracle to be told, but an uneven surface or even a slight puff of wind (or breaking of wind) was likely to send her careening into empty space, and her poor muscles had long ago lost any possible hope of saving her once her 625-pound body acquired its own momentum. All it took was the slightest tip in any direction…and gravity would do the rest.
But now Patti sagged in her recliner, and the cane stood at attention on her right. On Patti’s left, a few shapeless chunks of chocolate cake remained on an age-discolored, knock-off CorningWare platter. White icing ringed the edge, white smears and dark-brown smudges within it creating a sugary piece of abstract art. Patti’s face was a canvas of icing-white and chocolate-brown symbols, the art going from abstract to atavistic in its movement between the media of porcelain and flesh. Brown and white smudges veered crazily around her mouth, up her cheeks to her eyes, sideways to her ears and hair. Crumbs and clods dangled from her greasy brown locks, swinging like pendulums whenever she twitched or coughed.
Then she did cough, spitting cake and phlegm all over the polka dots and the burgundy imitation velvet of her tired recliner. Coughing, spluttering out the nasty bits in her mouth, Patti floated nearer the surface again, back to the world she knew and the life she hated, back to herself. Still, all that would come to her of that world were thoughts and memories, images and sensations. Her peanut-butter-and-marshmallow mind couldn’t grasp and form anything very well, but some things could rise to and ride on the sludgy surface, floating and bobbing beside her...
“Take cover, folks,” Bruce Dillinger screamed out over the din in the cafeteria, “we’re under a Big Mac attack!”
The hundred-plus mob of teenagers erupted in laughter as Patti tried to make her way to a seat in the middle of a long row of tables, turning sideways and scuttling along like a mutated crab, her face as red as the crab’s shell after being boiled.
Coach Turner had kept her late after gym class and railed on her (yet again) for sitting out of the President’s Physical Fitness tests, so she had been late getting to the cafeteria for lunch. Coach Turner hated her, loathed her, and never spared an opportunity to remind her of his disgust. She couldn’t run a mile (even a quarter mile), couldn’t do a pull-up, couldn’t do a sit-up, couldn’t do the vertical leap, couldn’t climb the rope. Hell, she could barely touch her toes. “How can you weigh 250 pounds at sixteen years old, Patti,” Coach Turner asked her—a half-rhetorical question that he seemed determined to answer. Neither of them could find an answer, though that never stopped the Coach from interrogating her about it, with his well-muscled arms akimbo on sculpted hips, shaking his clean-shaven head in bewilderment. He delivered the same old sermon about the importance of exercise, watching your caloric intake, the virtues of willpower and by-the-bootstraps self-control. Damn it girl, it’s so simple, so why can’t you get it and get fit? He just didn’t know. Neither did she.
Going to her locker after gym class instead of straight to the cafeteria had been a grave mistake, Patti realized now. She stood frozen, twisted sideways and holding her lunch tray at chest level. It was heavy enough on its own, supporting a sectioned plate with two chicken patties, two helpings of French fries, and an extra-large portion of buttery succotash, blueberry cobbler in a little bowl, a honey bun wrapped in cellophane, three packets each of ketchup and mayonnaise, two boxes of chocolate milk, a fork, a spoon, and three folded paper napkins. But now the tray seemed to be made of uranium, her flabby arms atremble as she stood and looked down at her meal, too scared to breathe. The blood had run from her head just as it had from her flagging arms, and she couldn’t think.
“Uh oh, watch out, she’s gonna fall!” Bruce screeched, feigning horrified fright. Then, for emphasis, he pushed his chair back with a harsh grind of the metal legs on linoleum and dove under the table, covering his head with his arms. “Watch out!” he called from below, “the Big Mac attack’ll kill us all!”
Every single person in the cafeteria, including the teachers who were there eating or acting as cafeteria monitors, sneered or chuckled or hid a grin behind a napkin.
Big Mac. Everyone in Fairmont High School knew Patti McLean by this inglorious epithet, but only a chosen few actually called her this. Bruce Dillinger was one. Coach Turner was another, though he only let it slip occasionally, when he didn’t think she was within earshot…usually when he was goading some other kid on in an exercise.
What could she do? She couldn’t sit in the lone empty chair and eat her lunch now! And her usual space in the far corner, near the lunch-line doors, was already full. Because she wasn’t there, that usually under-populated table was full. Today the Big Mac had not been here, so there was plenty of room at the table, and all were welcome.
She couldn’t sit, couldn’t walk, couldn’t do a damn thing except stand there and listen to the laughter build, punctuated by hoots and whistles…even applause. It must have been minutes that she stood there until her arms gave out and the tray fell with a clatter on the head of some boy, and she barreled out of the row and out of the cafeteria and into the girls’ restroom. It had taken the school nurse over an hour to talk her out of the stall, where she sat in a ball on the toilet. Her butt had been sore, the malleable cellulite bearing the deep impression of the horseshoe-shaped seat, as she got up and walked with Mrs. Dorsey to the office. Patti’s mom, Darlene, had come to get her and had taken her home. She hadn’t come out of her room for two days after that. She hadn’t gone back to Fairmont High School for a week.
The laughter of that day had carried on, ringing in her ears, getting louder or softer, for twenty-one years. Even now, as she half-dozed in her La-Z-Boy, Patti heard Bruce Dillinger scream “Big Mac!” from under the cafeteria table, heard teens and adults jeer and giggle from all around her, heard her tray clatter onto the head below it and then onto the floor.
The laughter was always the same, no matter whose mouth it came from. It echoed in her head, scratched away with taloned paws at the walls of her heart, gnawed with weasel’s teeth at her bowels. It was in her blood, in her flesh, in her thoughts. Patti dreamed the laughter in diabolical, freakish shapes.
The laughter burrowed into her, a tapeworm, finding her central core, where it fed and rotted and festered, a gangrenous malignant lump. It metastasized on the rich, nutritious resources surrounding it: Patti’s lonely, sensitive, beaten-down self.
Born of scorn and fed with hope, the worm at Patti’s core ate, and ate, and ate…calling for more, lisping to her, cozening her, from cupboard and refrigerator, from grocery-store aisle and drive-thru lane. And when it spoke, it would not be denied.
Patti heard it again now, floating in her La-Z-Boy, bobbing on her throbbing brain, tingling in her sleepy nerves, aching on her edges.
It sounded like…like rapid-fire Latin hip-hop, buffered by ear muffs or cotton balls.
Jorge and Luis lived in the trailer next to hers. Patti hated Jorge and Luis. She hated their pounding music, their noisy little souped-up cars, their friends, their yapping little pug dog, Fidel. Most of all she hated their yard. Jorge and Luis had a taste for gaudy, kitschy bric-a-brac and a knack for showmanship, using almost every square inch of their tiny trailer-park yard for that purpose. They had a full flock of lawn flamingoes—but not just the plain pink birds, which were bad enough, but birds with personality: sunglasses and Hawaiian shirts, tuxedos and top hats, psychedelic multi-colored bodies, sparkly plastic gems... They stood here and there, some in clusters and others on their own.
In one corner, half a dozen flamingoes gathered with plastic rabbits, squirrels, chipmunks, frogs, and deer around a three-foot tall plastic statue of Jesus. His arms were extended crosswise, and he wore a flowing plastic robe, with a huge red plastic heart in the center of his chest. He was preaching to these plastic parishioners, telling them about lilies in the field and mustard seeds, about sheep and goats, about needles and camels.
The Virgin Mary watched over the yard and the trailer from various places. You couldn’t walk ten feet without meeting her saintly face, eyes downcast, sometimes cradling her son as a cherubic child, other times cradling him as a bloody corpse just off the cross, here holding a rosary in silent prayer, there reaching down as if to feed a hungry animal or beggar. Most of the Marys were plastic, but some were stone. A few were accessorized, wearing flower necklaces, sunglasses, or other bling.
The worst, though, were the miniature Grecian nudes: replicas of Michelangelo’s David, Triton blowing his horn, and other icons of masculinity with genitals on full display. Like the Marys, these cocksure versions of yard art had been tricked out: bling and flower necklaces, sailor hats and leather jackets, painted-on tattoos that read “Mother” or “Hot Stuff.”
Jorge and Luis had moved into the trailer beside Patti six months ago, and they had unpacked the old hungry laughing worm with their big stereo and flamingoes and beer. They let it out with all the old, familiar maliciousness shortly after their arrival at Willows Glen Trailer Park. Through the sludge and stupor, Patti recalled that day.
She saw the mailman deliver her mail on the first afternoon of the month, which sent her dutifully out to the mailbox to see if her Social Security check had come yet. The money wasn’t much, hence her residency in Willows Glen (a.k.a. “Cockroach’s Den”), but it was enough. With her medical conditions and all—diabetes, high blood pressure, fibromyalgia, bad knees, anxiety disorder, insomnia, irritable bowel syndrome, weak immunity, depression—Patti couldn’t work. She had tried once, as a teenager, to work in a Barnes & Noble bookstore. It had lasted a month, but then the standing had made her knees hurt, and the anxiety of dealing with customers had caused rashes and insomnia, so she had quit. She had not worked a day since.
Four-footed metal cane in hand, Patti lumbered, huffing and wheezing, to her mailbox at the end of the walkway. She plucked the check from the mailbox and began the trek back inside. Oprah had gone to a commercial, so she had to hurry, since Dr. Phil would be on next.
There was a burst of laughter, and Patti heard the low pounding of Latin music next door grow quiet from the newly occupied trailer. Two thin men, maybe Puerto Rican or Cuban for all Patti knew, were standing close—too close, Patti observed—to each other on their small wooden deck, looking at her. She could see them talking in low voices, grinning, their eyes wide and bright, their white teeth flashing under meager mustaches. She put her eyes back on the concrete at her feet and started again for the trailer. It was so far away.
“Hey mamasita,” the taller one (Luis, she later learned), called to her. “Te quiero…I love you!”
“Damn, mama, you so fine. You got a boyfriend, eh?” That was Jorge, who started to say something else but then doubled over, convulsing with laughter, dropping his can of cheap beer.
“Oh, baby, you gonna kill my friend here you so hot. You wanna come over and get down, mamasita, hey?” Then Luis bent over Jorge, spilling beer on Jorge’s back, the both of them falling in a heap on their deck.
She had made it back to the trailer, opened and slammed her door, and fell into her groaning La-Z-Boy, lungs empty of breath and face full of hot blood…
It had been months ago, but now, like then, Patti was sweating all over, sweat mixing with tears. The revisited sting of that screeching laughter pushed her closer to consciousness again, sensations coalescing even as the memory faded. She could smell her own musky odor all around her, and she could vaguely see herself spilling out of the recliner as her dim gaze fell on her reflection in the glass door of her entertainment center.
Patti could hear the pounding, the laughter, coming from next door yet again, these sounds deadened not by time but by the stickiness in her head. She wanted to yell at them to shut up and go to bed, them and their queer hoodlum friends, but she couldn’t move, couldn’t open her eyes, couldn’t quite collect her senses. She was too tired, too sore. She just wanted to sleep. And for a little while, the sludge-soft lullaby of Latin hip-hop faded to nothing. She lost consciousness.
The ringing in her ears had faded, too, when she sank away…but now it was back, not close to her yet still there somewhere, yet different. It sounded like a telephone underwater, all burbly and broken.
Patti’s eyelids fluttered, and she saw dim, blurry shapes around her. The ringing burst out again, and she felt thoughts build tentative bonds somewhere in her head. Her phone was ringing. Not that she cared beyond the nuisance of the noise.
Farther away in space, the pre-recorded greeting on her answering machine played out, there was a loud beep, and there was a voice.
“Hey Patti, this is Dylan. I gotta run up to the store to get my Dad some chips and soda before the game comes on. Do you need anything? You there? Heeellooooo? Shit.”
Dylan…she remembered Dylan. Dylan lived with his father, Buddy, in the other trailer beside hers. Dylan…her angel.
The poor kid had grown up in Willows Glen. His mother had run off with a mechanic when he was four, leaving him under the reign of Buddy. The father was a belligerent drunk with a short fuse and a long reach. Now that his wife was gone, Buddy spent his drunken fury on Dylan whenever he could catch the fourteen-year-old boy. He worked at a textile factory, Patti dimly recalled, and left Dylan to find out on his own how to become a man.
Quiet and bookish, with thick-lensed glasses and little meat on his bones, Dylan did much of that searching in solitude.
“The kids at school call me ‘Gollum,’” Dylan told her one day. It was a few days after she first met him personally, when he had helped her bring in some groceries—this must have been three years, and a hundred pounds, ago.
“Yeah, that freaky character in The Lord of the Rings. You know, with the big buggy eyes. ‘My preciousss...’ They love to call me that…and it is sort of funny.”
“That’s not funny, Dylan, that’s awful,” Patti said—trying but failing to hold back her own laughter. They had both laughed long and hard, sitting at her kitchen table, drinking glasses of milk and eating Oreos.
Despite more than twenty years separating them in age, Patti and Dylan had become friends, of sorts. Dylan would pick up food for her at the store or medicine at the pharmacy when she needed him to, or he would cut her grass and rake her yard. Sometimes he came over to watch rented movies, which she paid for. He would make popcorn in the microwave—he always made the “natural” popcorn, with low-fat instead of regular butter melted and poured on top. She never said anything, only told him how good his popcorn was, though she knew the difference just by the smell, even the sound, not just by the cardboard taste.
Dylan also liked video games, and sometimes he brought over his game system to play on her big TV. Her screen was double the size of his, and she had it hooked up to big speakers, so the kid ate it up. They cranked the bass and the volume and often would play for hours on weekends or in the summer.
They were an odd pair, and Buddy ridiculed his son for spending more time with an “old cow” instead of a girl his own age (and size), but Dylan didn’t abandon Patti. Even when Buddy broke Dylan’s arm and blackened his eye after Dylan had spent the day working in Patti’s yard, forgetting to clean his own trailer in the process, the boy went out of his way to help Patti. He seemed to like being with her, in fact, though she couldn’t figure out why.
The phone burbled again. Patti turned her head and forced her eyes open, trying to see through the syrupy stuff that surrounded every particle of her.
“Patti,” Dylan’s voice called out after the machine’s greeting and beep. “Paaaatttiiiii...? Okay, just wanted to try again. I’m leaving now. I’ll try again later.”
She wanted to get up to the phone then, wanted desperately to talk to Dylan, to tell him to get over here now and hurry. But she was just too heavy, too sticky all over.
Patti turned back and straightened herself in her La-Z-Boy, pushing her sticky eyelids open more, and saw the cake plate on the table to her left, the remnants of cake and icing. She noticed again the minty-chocolate taste in her mouth, the clinging sweetness of sugar and flour. She saw the leftover bits, tasted the lingering flavors, and remembered...
The weather was cool this morning and the skies clear. Patti peeked out of her windows now and again as the sun rose higher. She could not sit for more than a few minutes without struggling out of the recliner and over to the window. Finally, she mustered her courage to venture out of the trailer and…try walking in the neighborhood. Dr. Zakaris had been on her ass like a bedsore to start exercising. She always ignored him, waving him away like a pestering mosquito, and left his office every time with yet another wad of prescription slips or medical forms for Social Services.
Dylan had started the new school year today and was planning to attend a Drama Club meeting or something afterward, so Patti would not be seeing him. She was feeling unusually good this morning: no pain in her knees or hands, no trouble breathing, no arrhythmias or asthma attacks.
Maybe I will try a little walk, just to end of the street and back, she thought. “You can do it, Patti. It’s just a little ways. Then you can have a treat when you get back,” she told herself out loud, sitting in her La-Z-Boy.
Fifteen minutes later, Patti was lumbering out of her front gate, leaning on her cane. The late summer air was cool and crisp and fresh, and the light of the rising sun gilded the edges of the trees and the metal of the cars on the street. A few dogs barked in yards as she walked by, and she saw more than a few curtains flutter closed when she looked towards them, but she ignored them, and she walked. She could see the Stop sign, maybe 50 yards from her. She had made it nearly twenty feet from her own sidewalk, and she still felt fine, her smile growing larger with each step.
It took nearly ten minutes for her to reach the Stop sign, followed by a two-minute break for her to lean against the sign and get all of her breath back. She could see her walkway from where she stood, as well as her pine-green Dodge Caravan parked on the street in front of it. Finally, with a puff and a grunt, she pushed off from the sign’s metal pole and trundled back, homeward bound.
Twenty minutes and two stops later, Patti turned onto her walkway. Her trailer had never looked so good; her comfy La-Z-Boy never seemed so attractive. Seated again at last, she would kick up her feet and give herself a little (no, a big) treat for such a miraculous feat. And wait until Dr. Zakaris heard about this! He would drop dead—if he believed her, that is.
Maybe I can get one of the nosey neighbors to write a witness’s statement for me, she thought and laughed.
Someone else laughed, too.
“Madre de Dios, look atchoo, mamasita.” It was Luis. “You as red as a tomate, big mama.”
Jorge walked out onto the deck, followed his partner’s gaze, and added, “Eh, Luis, she lookin’ so sweet…look at her jiggle, ah she...” But he lost it then, overtaken by laughter.
Patti stopped, taking in the sight of them, and watched without comprehension as they pointed and gawked and laughed.
She needed to get back to her trailer. Her knees were throbbing, and her chest was tightening up, choking her. She hurried forward, working her tired legs and her sturdy cane.
Halfway up the walkway, she misplaced the cane, and one of the feet sank into the dirt. It stuck just enough to make her totter and lose her balance, and that was all it took for gravity to gain the victory. She fell half on the concrete, half on the soft lawn, bloodying her shin and elbow as she hit the ground.
Jorge and Luis stopped laughing for a few seconds, staring at her.
“Oh shit, man, now she tenderizing herself,” Luis exploded in laughter.
Jorge picked up the thread: “Hey man, I want somma that hamburger patty. Hey, Hamburger Patty, come over here, I’m so hungry and you so big, mamasita…”
They had laughed and pointed, heckled and hooted, as Patti lay on the ground and Fidel scurried around their feet, yapping and leaping. She couldn’t remember now how she had made it back to vertical—the best she could manage in her stupor were vague images of the cane, vague impressions of straining arm muscles and tiny breaths and sweaty hands.
Minutes, hours, days later, she had been back inside, leaning on her kitchen counter, with the laughter ringing in her ears. She had stood there for a long, long time, weeping onto the cracking countertop, as her shin and elbow and arm muscles burned, as her fugitive breath tried to flee from her.
Patti had been so tired, and all she had wanted to do was sleep.
But you promised yourself a big treat if you made it, Patti. So go ahead…have yourself a treat. Go on…you deserve it…
And there is no better way to celebrate than a cake…
Patti drifted and bobbed, sitting in her La-Z-Boy, semi-conscious and sludgy, like a fat beetle in honey. She was too tired to stay awake any longer, too heavy and sticky all over. And she didn’t care. The taste of chocolate and mint was dwindling in her mouth, drying up with her saliva, fading with the clinging sugariness that seemed like a hardening caramel glaze on her world.
A few blurry, broken ghost-images rose to the surface of her inner sludge, but they held almost no interest for her now, the shaky film had gotten too painful to follow…
She…walked with a bloody shin and elbow into the bathroom, grabbing full bottles of Percocet and Valium and going back to the kitchen…collected the things for making a cake, opening the slim red box, laying out bowls and pans on the counter…took a full bottle of peppermint schnapps from the cupboard beside the fridge…measured cupfuls of liquor and poured them into the other dry and wet ingredients, stirring everything into a mint-chocolaty brown batter…sat at the table, crushing tablets of Percocet and Valium with a rolling pin, sweeping the pile of chalky blue dust into the round cardboard tub of white icing, mixing them together…sat, comfy again at last, in her La-Z-Boy, digging into the cake with a fork, not bothering to cut it into slices, washing it down with schnapps straight from the bottle.
Other images floated up, but they were too blurry and broken, the sticky sludge was too heavy, and she was too tired. All she wanted now was to sleep.
Patti had taken her walk, she had taken her fall, she had gotten back up, and she had gotten her reward. Stung by the laughter, the mocking, and the scorn, Patti had walked her path and carried her heavy burden.
But suddenly she felt light, so wonderfully light.
And now, having reached the end at last, all Patti wanted to do was sleep…
“Hey, Patti, you in there?” Dylan called out, pounding on her door and trying to peer in through the curtains. He thought he could see her in her chair, like always, but there wasn’t much light inside.
He hadn’t talked to her in three days, since before he started school, and he was aching to tell her about the Drama Club. He had her mail in one hand, what looked like several days’ worth; he had seen the same page of coupons sticking out for several days. In the other hand he held a movie and a package of microwave popcorn.
“Patti, hey, Patti,” Dylan called again. No answer. He tried the knob and found it unlocked, so he turned it all the way and pushed the door open. She had to be here. Her van was out front, she couldn’t have walked anywhere, and he didn’t know of anyone who would come and take her out someplace.
For just an instant, he envisioned an ambulance rushing down the street and stopping here, paramedics rushing up to the trailer with a stretcher and going in and then struggling to load Patti into the ambulance. He even saw the ambulance sink on its shocks before pulling away, its red and white lights flashing, but no siren just yet.
Putting all of that out of his mind, Dylan walked through the door. He breathed again when he saw that, yes, she was indeed in her chair, just with the lights and TV off. She must be sleeping. He tiptoed over to her. Maybe he could surprise her and wake her up so they could watch the movie and eat popcorn. Or maybe not…she might have an asthma attack if he frightened her.
It smelled weird in the trailer, which he noticed as he came up beside her. He saw the grimy cake plate on the end table. The dried cake crumbs and icing in a white ring. The empty bottle of peppermint schnapps.
Justin Van Kleeck, a Virginia native currently living in Harrisonburg, has been writing since childhood. He received his PhD in English from the University of Virginia in 2006 and has experience as a freelance writer on environmental, animal rights, and other social issues (as well as occasional literary scholarship). He is active in his community, working with community organizations, running independent events, and participating in local thought and discussion. He serves as the assistant manager of the Harrisonburg Farmers Market and works for a non-profit organization in Staunton. He enjoys reading, yoga, gardening, and getting outside with his wife.
Q: What was your inspiration for this story?
A: This story’s roots lie in my own experiences as an overweight child, and the moments of shame I felt and shaming I was subjected to by peers and even adults. Although there are constructive ways to deal with that, not everyone is able to find them, and this story is an exploration of that struggle.
Q: What writers do you consider to be your primary influences?
A: I read a lot of Stephen King growing up, and I always was (and still am) interested in dark stories, themes, and ideas. So gothic and horror literature are where my feet are planted …everything from Poe and Lovecraft to Horace Walpole, the Brontes, and Charles Brockden Brown, to name a few. But I would not pinpoint any specific names or people, as my reading has been pretty varied in topic, period, style, and subject. I am always most impressed by writers who tackle “big” issues and ideas, while also being masterful in their development of their characters. Tolstoy is probably the standout for me along these lines.
Q: What’s your ideal place to write?
A: I love writing outdoors, or in a cozy chair. I prefer quiet spaces, without much human hustle and bustle; music is also distracting when I write.
Q: What’s the wildest bit of research you’ve done for a story?
A: I remember spending several hours on Google Maps trying to find a good spot on Interstate 10, between Louisiana and Florida, to place a story. It involved using the street view feature to read highway signs and scope out the scenery.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: As far as writing goes, mostly essays (technically blog posts, though mine are not your typical blog post) for a couple of environmental and vegan/animal-rights blogs I write for. Next up is a book review. When I sit down to write more creative things, I usually end up with a poem; I hope to have more time for fiction as life slows down a little in the colder months ahead.