by Jon McConnell
In honor of the relaunch of our site, Fiction Editor Jon McConnell is taking some time to talk to some of our amazing writers about their work each week. This week’s chat is with Ashley Hutson, whose short story, This Bridge, is our featured fiction this week.
The first thing that struck me about this story was the variable speed – short declarative sentences/clauses that let you linger in moments and then suddenly skip over months. What about the story called for this technique? How deliberate was it?
I started writing this story nearly a year ago, so it’s hard to recall what was deliberate and what happened by-the-by. I think this piece was the first time I played around with a distant, flat narrative voice. I used to be quite maudlin. Now I prefer a certain coldness when delivering a story with high emotional stakes. There’s something deliciously cruel about it.
We get the bridge image pretty far into the story, and the “key” to gathering the emotional core of the fractured structure (as far as I see it) comes in reconciling the appearance of that image with the “This” of the title, “This Bridge.” I know reconciling is a pretty loaded word for this story, but were you hoping for this effect? How important was the distance between the title and its defining image for you?
I think the bridge metaphor is how most relationships work. Hell, it could be a metaphor for the act of living, of just getting to the next thing. The main character in this story is depressed, obviously, and has a penchant for fantasizing situations into negative extremes. Yet she wants to survive, to have faith in something. She’s trying. And I realize now that the bridge imagery has been done, the whole bridge thing might be a little tired, even. But it works for her. Depressed people cannot be picky about where the light comes from.
Then there’s my own personal fondness for corny insults—“build a bridge and get over it.” I can never resist that one.
The titled vignette structure – where does that come from, to your mind? Is it an artifice coming from you or did the character come to you thinking this way?
I think I was trying to be “experimental,” whatever that means. But the real world and the fantasy world—they always fight each other, no? I think the vignette structure puts that across well enough.
What are you working on now? Did the process of writing “This Bridge” inform how you work on your new stuff at all?
Right now I’m working on a fiction collection, and a novel will probably follow. I recently started working with an agent, Zoe Sandler at ICM Partners, so the future is bright. When I wrote “This Bridge,” it was the longest fiction piece I had written in a while, so I guess you could say it was a breakthrough as far as word count. Since then I’ve been furiously tip-tap-tippy-tappy-typing away. There is much to say.