BackStory: Four Questions with T. L. Ransome
Author of The Last of El Dorado
What inspired you to write ‘The Last of El Dorado’?
A trip to Phoenix through the cactus-studded Sonoran Desert. The saguaro are arguably the most iconic species of cactus with their curved arms and heights of up to 40 feet. As you’re driving through the dusk and you see the saguaro out of the corner of your eye, they look for all the world like sentinels keeping watch over the desert. They often live for up to 150 years, and so their memories are far longer than ours.
It occurred to me to wonder: what if the traditional narrative of the settlement of the American West was inverted? What if, instead of writing about how people triumphed over nature, I wrote about how nature, in the form of giant saguaro cacti, held sway over human affairs? That question was the genesis of the story.
Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?
A reference to Tombstone, AZ, iconic site of the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and one of the silver boomtowns of the West; a sibling connection between the first and second “reinas”; and a reference to the railroad network that was soon to knit northern Arizona to the well-known Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway system.
What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?
This depends on the genre. With longer-form prose and poetry, my favourite part of writing is completing the first draft, because as long as I have enough time to do it right, my vision for the piece is usually fairly well realized at that point in the process. I find editing difficult in that context, and it is usually my least favourite part of creating the piece.
I have found that the process of writing flash is very different. My initial pass at a piece is often flawed and takes a good deal of revision over an extended period of time. I learn quite a bit during the editing process, including where the piece can go and where it can’t go, whether my narrative and poetic devices will function as intended, and what changes it will take to make the piece work best. My favourite part of writing flash is editing because I’ve found that that’s when the character of a piece becomes clear. The initial drafting stage is my least favourite part because the piece is still so immature and I’m staring down the long editing tunnel.
What do you like most about writing flash?
I am relatively new to flash, having stuck staunchly to poetry for a number of years. Now that I’ve discovered the genre, I’m hooked, not only because there are opportunities for combining poetry and prose, but because its brevity helps both author and reader focus on the main point of a piece. As I’ve experienced it, the privilege and burden of writing flash is to convey a message in as few words as possible. Everything that is not essential to this goal, no matter how atmospheric or rhetorically pleasing, must be cut. What I like most about writing flash is this focusing process, which gives a definite shape to conceptualizing, writing and editing a piece of fiction.
T. L. Ransome is a writer from both coasts and the middle of the United States. Ransome‘s flash has appeared or is forthcoming in Vestal Review, Reflex Fiction, Ellipsis Zine, The Phare, and Flash Fiction Magazine. Ransome has been longlisted for the Cambridge Prize and the WriteWords Competition and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize.
Photo of saguaro cacti in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert by Rennett Stowe, via Wikimedia Commons.