BackStory: Five Questions with Winston Bribach
Author of Erased
What inspired you to write ‘Erased’?
The initial concept came to after I watched a documentary on Chinese/American laborers. The crew went to a frontier museum with lots of railroad artefacts and photographs, and the curator was convinced there were photos of the Chinese workers. He was shocked to find none. The light bulb went off. I understood what cultural erasure meant. The concept stuck to me until the image of a man being literally erased came to mind.
Who are your favourite historical fiction writers and why?
My favorite historical fiction writers are Jamie Ford, Celeste Ng, and Robert Penn Warren. Each, in their own way, bring the past to life. Ford captures the Chinese American position in relation to the Japanese and Japanese Americans well and his love for a lost Seattle is obvious. You can tell he’s done his research in recreating it on the page. Ng writes such beautiful sentences and describes emotions and the reality of being Asian American in the 60s and 70s in ways I didn’t think were possible. It’s stunning. Penn Warren (if you count All the King’s Men as historical) is similar in the sense that he was able to capture certain scenes and emotions in such a precise and aesthetically pleasing way. His poetic eye and ear are so finely tuned. I reread him (and Ng) often.
Were there any interesting facts, details, or turns of phrase that didn’t quite make the final piece?
I wanted to open it up a little and add more information about the two men that die. One wrote the narrator’s letters home – this was a common practice, as many of the laborers who came to America were from impoverished backgrounds and were often uneducated. The more literate members of the community would write their letters.
Removing it was a necessary sacrifice. Not to worry, I am working on a longer short story about a Chinese laborer and have the room to include such details.
What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?
This is a hard one. Not so long ago, I would’ve answered the drafting stage as the most enjoyable part of writing because that is where most of the invention happens. Now, it’s a toss-up with revision, as there is perhaps no more satisfying feeling than seeing your own writing become prettier and more refined.
I also should say that revision can also be the least rewarding part of the process, too. Sometimes, I get tired of looking at the story, going line by line and making the smallest changes. Details are essential to writing. Doesn’t mean they aren’t frustrating.
What do you like most about writing flash?
Precision. Given the constraints, which can be less than 500 words or 1000, there is no room for wasted space. Writing flash has helped curb my once verbose instincts. I describe what I need to describe and cut what is not essential. It has made me a better writer whether the project is shorter or longer.
Winston Bribach is an Asian American writer and a graduate student in the English PhD program at Texas A&M University. When he’s not reading or writing, he is constantly bemoaning the state of soccer in America. Find him on Twitter @WinBribach.
Illustration by unknown artist. Caption: ‘Central Pacific Railroad–Chinese Laborers at Work.’ Harper’s Weekly, Vol. XI, No. 571, p. 772.