BackStory: Five Questions with H. A. Eugene
Author of Awake Since ’78
What inspired you to write ‘Awake Since ’78’?
Police reports are descriptions of events (crimes) based on witness statements. They are intended to be objective; the problem is, they are not. In addition to being ahistoric, reports often come front loaded with prejudices about out-groups; meanwhile, the idea of who should belong to that out-group to begin with is a construct that is constantly changing, and will continue to change over time.
How much research did you do while writing and editing this piece? Did you discover anything that surprised you?
It became very apparent to me when I started investigating early twentieth century street clothing that fashion is history. I knew this would be a big part of the story I intended to write, but what I didn’t know is how this would be true in more ways than just how appearances relate to the mores of a given time period.
Like how during wartime, fabric rationing in some places resulted in conservative, low-shouldered, straight-legged suits for men. When World War II ended, certain styles of clothing, like high shoulders in teddy boy suits, for instance, could be read not just as a reaction against scarcity, but as an act of rebellion. Also, teen/youth fashion didn’t exist until the 1950s (in fact, the modern concept of ‘teenager’ didn’t fully exist until that time period).
Of course much of this fun stuff didn’t make it into the story, but it was neat to learn about, anyhow.
What is your favourite part of the writing process? Your least favourite?
I don’t really have a favorite part of the writing process at this point. I just enjoy telling strange, implausible stories. And you know what they say: “a bad day fishing is better than a good day working”. It’s all just different types of cake to me!
Spitballing, or brainstorming, when all I have of an idea are images or data points, is neat because I feel like a paper wasp building a nest from nothing but little irrelevant pieces of stuff. Meanwhile, all the research that goes into filling out a second draft is also enjoyable, but for different reasons (as I mentioned, I enjoy learning stuff). Editing, or refining the extant work by deletion and moving things around, is fun because at this point I can see things begin to take shape. And the process of interpreting and applying reader feedback from later drafts (acquired from live human testing, of course!) is great because I get to see which gambits paid off and which didn’t.
But I think if pressed I would have to say my least favorite part of the work flow might actually be submitting. This is because I oftentimes find it difficult to say with certainty whether a written work is truly done. (Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that in a lot of cases this is not really a teachable skill, so much as it is a therapy concept.)
What do you like most about writing flash?
When it comes to working a story into a very specific word limit, I enjoy discovering what type of meaning can be delivered, and at what resolution level. It is fascinating to see how an idea can be scaled down, and how far. Like taking a ship apart and rebuilding a version of it in a tiny bottle.
If you could have three historical figures over for dinner, who would they be?
This is a surprisingly tough question! The way I see it, there’s a difference between people I’m interested in and people who are interesting to me. People who are interesting to me will oftentimes be people I do not necessarily want to have over for dinner, because they will likely be combinations of annoying, dangerous, or unsavory. Like, I can imagine that having dinner with Genghis Khan would result in the police knocking on my door because my neighbors called 311 about all the horses. Also, Anthony and Cleopatra…I mean, really! I cherish what few evenings I actually have off. I don’t want to spend even one playing couples therapist for royals!
That said, I would be interested in having Manfred von Richthofen (aka The Red Baron), Harry Houdini, and Hedy Lamarr, who invented frequency hopping (which led to wifi, among other things)—over for dinner. They sound like they would be nice, civil dinner guests, full of interesting stories and perspectives.
H. A. Eugene writes strange stories about food and death and pretty music about homicide and fascism. Most recently, his short stories have appeared in the anthologies Thuggish Itch: Hospitality, by Gypsum Sound Stories, as well as Through Death’s Door, by Monnath Books. Find him on Twitter @haeugene.
Photograph of a pocket watch made by Franciszek Czapek, circa 1876, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.