I am excited to share this month’s FLASH on the FIVE story – “The Tornado” by Rebekah Bergman, as published in Fractured Lit. Fractured is a one of the markets that has its finger on the pulse of flash fiction, publishing a new flash piece every Monday as well as posting other flash content throughout the week (essays, interviews, etc.) I also love that Fractured highlights Microfiction – those stories that ring in at around 400 words or fewer. Talk about efficiency of language! I definitely invite you to check out some of those stories under the Micro heading on their site.
I promise you that “The Tornado” is a story that will not be what you expect. And after chatting with Rebekah, I looked at it in completely new ways. So first click below, enjoy the story, and come back to check out the Q&A.
FAVORITE LINE: But sometimes being with someone only makes you feel more alone. She thought of a chair in the corner of an empty room and how it makes the room look even emptier.
Again, I know that’s two lines, but they go together so well. I love how that first line makes you pause and think about that concept – undoubtedly running though the catalogue of loneliness in your own life and checking the validity of this statement. Then I love the following line, expressed in the abstract, but serving as a perfect set up for later when we see the character has her own empty room with a lone chair in the corner. Brilliant.
It’s somewhat funny that I chose to highlight this line as it doesn’t point to the magical realism in this story, which is really what I love most. The way the story portrays a tornado as a real, likeable, engaging character is just outstanding. The relationship between our main character and the tornado is endearing and complicated. And not only does magical realism push the boundaries of what we know as possible in our world in a fun, playful way, but it also opens up the story and the character to explore bigger issues – in this case grief, loneliness, etc. – in new ways, ways that might not be possible in a more traditionally told narrative.
I could write several pages on all that's going on in this story and all that I love, but like I said, we get so much more insight from getting a peak at Rebekah’s process and approach to the piece. Very thankful for her time!
(P.S. - In one of her answers, Rebekah references another story ("The Rememberer") which coincidentally has long been a favorite of mine. Highly recommend reading that one as well. November bonus story!)
1) I'm always curious about where stories come from, that first tiny seed. What was the inspiration or idea-spark for “The Tornado”?
I worked on this story off and on for many years and it changed quite a lot. At different points, it was shorter and much longer and, for a while, it was written in first-person. I can’t say I remember a whole lot about where it all started now! I do remember that I began writing it in 2014 shortly after I was accepted to a residency in rural Nebraska at a special place called Art Farm. I must have been thinking about Nebraska and tornadoes and Tornado Alley and imagining how my time there would be. I’d never been to Nebraska. I grew up in New England but--oddly--I had a fear of tornadoes and a very vivid recurring nightmare about them as a child. Despite all that, the very first seed of this story was an image of a less threatening tornado--not the kind that rips up houses and destroys towns but one that lands in someone’s yard and wants to stay, almost like a stray cat. I remember I wrote down a short note for myself: “a pet tornado,” and that was where this story started.
2) It might sound a little funny to say – but the tornado is really well drawn character. His dialogue is strong, and his personality is distinct and engaging. What was your approach to writing him? How was it different to your approach to writing a human character, if at all?
I like to think about what human society looks like to an outside observer and all the strange things we just accept and do. The tornado was fun to write because he has this outsider’s perspective. I enjoyed figuring out how he would see the woman whose yard he lands in and her loneliness and her life. I felt it was important to describe his physical traits and give his movements some practical purposes in the story--his body is used to clean a room and as a corkscrew to open a wine bottle. I think these details helped to make the tornado a concrete presence in the story as a real character and not just...a rotating column of air.
That said, I don’t think writing him was too different from writing a human character. He has a genuine curiosity, a young soul, and I think, the wonder of a child so it felt a bit like writing a very young human character. The main challenge for me was creating the dynamic I wanted between him and the woman. That was a really important part of this story. I wanted the two of them to diverge and converge in ways that would resonate. They envy each other.
3) The ending is one of my favorite parts – “…there was no sound, no light, no air, only that violent kind of emptiness that you carry inside you, around and around and around.” The very last bit is beautiful but so sad. Yet, I don’t come away from the story with this extreme bleakness. There’s definitely a certain hopefulness in the story. Where do you think this comes from?
The ending was one of the few parts of this story that changed very little over the years. I knew what I was writing toward, which is not always the case for me. I love that you come away with a sense of hopefulness!
To be very specific and literal about your question, the hope might be from the words “that you carry inside you.” There is a violent emptiness to her grief, but it does not stop her. She is not, herself, the emptiness. And she is learning to carry the emptiness inside her.
More broadly, I don’t know that I can articulate this well but I do think there is hopefulness to grief--or really, our ability to grieve and be grieved.
4) I love magical realism for so many reasons – not only the fun whimsy of it, but also what you can do in exploring more serious themes and emotions (as you do with loneliness, grief, connection). Do you write magical realism often? If so, what drew you to it or if not, why this time?
It’s not really a conscious choice but I do dip into magic and the surreal often in my writing. I find reality to be pretty bizarre, and there isn’t always a clear division in my brain when I move from a story that might otherwise be considered strictly real into terrain that will make it magically real. I agree with you that magical realism gives a writer a lot of breadth to explore emotions in fresh ways. Grief and loneliness are abstract. To write a story that renders these two abstractions concretely, a bit of magic is helpful. There is a very short piece by Aimee Bender called The Rememberer that I am always recommending and it is one of the most realistic depictions of grief I’ve ever read. In it, the narrator’s lover is experiencing reverse evolution: from human, to ape, to a small creature that she must release into the sea.
5) What are you working on now, and where can we see more of your writing?
Right now, I’m revising a novel. I’m also finishing a collection of stories. Links to my published fiction can be found on my website: rebekahbergman.com.