The Running of Blood
April’s flash piece comes from the wonderful Chestnut Review, whose motto “for stubborn artist” is definitely something I can get behind. And as a former reader for Chestnut, I can tell you firsthand that the staff there is top notch. They also publish a wide array of top notch work-- poetry, flash, longer works of fiction, nonfiction as well as chapbooks. This particular flash gem – “The Running of Blood” – comes from the prolific Tommy Dean. Read it at the link below and come back for the fantastic Q&A with Tommy where he imparts so much insight into the story as well as great craft advice!
FAVORITE LINE: At seventeen, I’m a body pulsing with song lyrics, balancing that good boy fear of sex and the first tastes of not giving a fuck.
There are a lot of impactful lines here, but this one does two things that I love about this story. One -- "At seventeen, I'm a body pulsing with song lyrics..." I love how immersed in youth we are in this story. High school football games, girls, lies to your parents, rules, expectations, "the urge to bite the bulb of her skin"... the story is pulsing with the electricity of teenagers. And then the second half of the sentence: "...balancing that good boy fear of sex and the first tastes of not giving a fuck." This story has also has so much strong duality. It even announces this to us in the opening: "...there is nature and there is religion..." and throughout the piece I love the tension that is created from Shawn's feelings of obligation to his father, his church, his town as butting heads with his feelings for Mandy and that first taste of freedom and individual choices. There's so much to dissect in this short piece and Tommy does a great job of providing us with further insight in the following Q&A:
1. I'm always curious about where stories come from, that first tiny seed. What was the inspiration or idea-spark for “The Running of Blood”?
I was thinking about a teenage boy in the car with his girlfriend in a lightning storm. I had no idea why they were there or what might happen, but the image kept repeating in my mind, flashing like lightning until I wrote the first couple of lines, and then the story took off!
2. I love that this story feels like a “love triangle” of sorts. But not in the traditional sense. Shawn seems torn between Mandy and his father, which I see as common in coming-of-age stories. The loyalty to parents/family against the new freedom of engaging with people (often of the opposite sex) your own age. Can you talk to this and the central conflict of the story?
Yes! I see that now! The dad is a larger product of this small Midwestern town that tends to trap people in its ideas of morality and religion. How teenagers need to stay chaste and how those feelings and pressures can really mess with a teenager's mind! There's an anxiety created here where he doesn't want to do anything wrong, and he doesn't want to hurt his father, all with the underlining fear of death. Maybe it's hyperbole, but also it feels real to me, like something close to what I experienced as a teenager! There were so many ways to get hurt or die, and I was worried about most of them! This story is definitely anchored by a lot of my own feelings as a teenager, and trying to figure out what the "right things to do" were! Not all stories cleave as closely to my own fears and anxieties, but I had a natural closeness with this main character.
3. Setting plays such a huge part in this story! Not only the rain, but the lights, the football game, youth! The main character is completely immersed in this hyper-frenetic world. How do you see setting working in this story, and in flash fiction in general?
One way to get a reader to trust the writer/narrator is to cement that reader in a particular time and place. No one likes to feel lost, and readers often stop reading once they become lost or confused. I wanted the reader to feel like they are behind the eyes of the main character, to feel like they are on the stage of the story with my character. Without specific settings, with unique details, the reader can't inhabit the story fully, and I want as much immersion as possible! I think this is important for all stories of flash. Setting is a tool of immersion! But with compression, you can only give the setting so many words, so you have to make it come alive quickly, but deeply, and filtering through the unique point of view of the main character can do this in fewer words, but with more power! It's always a balancing act! The setting created the plot or the conflict in a lot of ways, so it was more important to this flash than it is in other flashes!
4. I would love for you to talk about the last line. It’s so striking! I want to shout back to Mandy, make her understand that you can want multiple things at once, but something eventually wins out, that the deer are always there, cowering, streaking through the dark, instincts rooted deep in their blood, ready to run. Especially …the dear are always there, cowering, streaking through the dark, instincts rooted deep in their blood, read to run. Such a powerful ending! Can you talk to how you arrived at that last line and what it might mean for you?
The deer are the metaphor, the manifestation of all of his anxieties and fears. The deer are always out there, waiting to jump in front of the car, to cause a collision that might lead to death. I love when the metaphor can act on both figurative and literal planes, how they can both be true at the same time. This is one way to add depth, to make this story more than this single event, and how it makes these characters stand for more than just their role in the story. In order to create feelings in the reader, this resonance, the story has to mean something to the character, the reader, and the writer. A flash writer often has to take a risk, especially with endings by pushing hard into the central image/metaphor, allowing the story to become a bit surreal. The fear has put enough pressure on the character that they see the world in a different way than they would from a different event. This rapid, winding sentence felt right to encapsulate all of his fears, even after he's decided to do something helpful. It might be too little too late, and so he's already thinking of the ways he has failed, of the ways the deer (death) is just around the corner.
5. What are you working on now, and where can we see more of your writing?
I'm working on a lot of projects at once! I'm writing some flash and micros, as well as some 100 word stories. I'm inching my way toward a rough draft of a new flash collection! The best way to catch me is on Twitter @tommydeanwriter. I share my most recent publications and ways to join some of my generative writing classes! These questions were so great! Thank you for reading my work so closely and kindly!