Back to the Source

I’m writing this from my parents’ house in Central Washington. I’ll blame my location for my late post. It’s hard to focus on writing when you escape to a place of such comfort. Where my parents live now is fifteen minutes outside of the town I grew up in. When I return to Central Washington at certain times of year–in the fall to experience Americana events like the county fair or the haunted corn maze and in the summer when everything is cherries, floating down the Yakima River, and fireworks–I feel like I’ve returned to my source of inspiration. It’s strange how much small towns provide me with the details, the settings, and the ideas that ultimately weave themselves into my short stories.

The sunset over Mt. Adams. A view in the Lower Valley I'll never tire of.
The sunset over Mt. Adams. A view in the Lower Valley I’ll never tire of.

I consider myself a city girl. I lived in Seattle for six years and am approaching the end of my second year in Portland. I love city life–the vibrancy, culture, and opportunities. And yet I rarely write stories that take place in urban settings. Maybe it’s hard to shake your roots, and my roots are blue collar and country. Most people wouldn’t guess it from the way I dress or the movies I watch or the books I read, but I come from a family of truck drivers, spent my childhood at the drive-in movie theater, and have definitely been to the rodeo. It is these roots that I return to time and time again when I write a short story.

Raymond Carver pulled from the sparse desert landscape of Central Washington for his sparse stories. John Cheever wrote about the upper class problems of WASPs on the East Coast and abroad in Italy. Alice Munro’s sweeping, layered stories of families and relationships take place in the sweeping countrysides of Canada. These three short story writers pull from the destinations they know the best. They pull from their roots.

For my newest short story, I wanted to tackle two seemingly disparate concepts: the Jehovah’s Witness religion and competitive eating contests. On a recent trip to visit my parents in the tiny town of Zillah, I went into town with a friend of mine and we stumbled upon a treasure of a setting that fit perfectly for my new story. It is a restaurant attached to a furniture warehouse that holds live auctions. So a customer can go for steak and leave with a couch. This hybrid business is the perfect piece of Americana throwback that I didn’t think existed in the twenty-first century. Some real things are so ludicrous they beg to be fictionalized. This will be the core setting of an emotional showdown between a teenage daughter who blames her dad for the death of her mother. Their fight and breakdown will take place at the same time that he competes in a massive burger-eating contest. A little bit strange, a little bit raw, but very much a small town story.

I believe in the small town story. I believe in the small town. I may never live in one again, but I will always love them. And they will never cease to amaze and surprise me.


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