Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Robert Mangeot’s fiction piece, Snap Bam Boom
Sommer: I don’t think I’ve ever read a story about a dad experiencing pre-birth anxiety, and definitely not in such a funny and unique way! You have such a stereotype on your hands here: child-like guy-about-to-become-dad drinks beer on the couch while ruminating on his displaced Nintendo, his Yamaha jet ski, and heroically fighting off alligators, and yet the narrator doesn’t feel stereotypical—he feels alive. And we acutely feel his version of pre-parent anxiety. Were you aware of the dangers/difficulties of working with a stereotype, and how did you work your way around them?
Bob: I knew he was just a guy. He had to be, or else the whole thing fell apart. His fixation built to such whackadoodle—prehistoric-sized alligators in every yard and creek—that it needed juxtaposition with the completely common. If he started off equally out there, the story would’ve been pure whackadoodle without the same relatable fear central to the point. Pre-parental anxiety is as old and natural as parenting.
For me, a stereotype is an unexplored trope. I knew “Snap” would explore the guy. It would wake an inner dimension to him, and I figured the story voice would find his unique frequency. Or if none of that happened, the story bombs and we’re not having this conversation. I did worry about getting a multi-dimensional “him” across in such a short piece. Told fairly slant, too. Until he wore himself out near the end, rogue mega-gators had him gripped and not fully grasping his true inner shift. I’m grateful to hear the guy came through and made this story his own.
The best line by-far is Brooke’s astute and dry, “ ‘I don’t guess anyone’s ever ready.’” Her love for her temporarily manic husband is exquisitely obvious here. Well-time; well-placed. Were you writing towards this line, or did it just appear? I really admire how you didn’t dwell on this moment, which makes it more powerful. Did it take much restraint on your part as author to not write more into this spot?
This is what it’s all about, isn’t it? What part of writing is process vs. what part is magic. I re-checked the early drafts, and her line was there from the start. I don’t recall it as a spark in any way. Quite the opposite. The story reached its pivotal moment, and the guy burned through his gator fever, and in his exhaustion he appealed directly to Brooke as his partner and mother of his child. She had to say something. As the feet-on-the-ground half of the marriage (another juxtaposition), she would simply speak wisdom a step beyond his. The restraint was intentional. In long-term relationships, much stays unsaid because it’s already understood.
Full disclosure: more than once I almost changed this line. It felt a bit on-the-nose, but it held the ending moment: a lesson for him, her patience and forgiveness, their path forward.
Call it a bit of found magic.
Your first child is about to be born. What’s your greatest fear?
It plays out in the guy’s mania. I would worry about protecting the life I’d helped shepherd into this world. About the basics of being a good dad. Love, education, shelter from gatorzillas. Like that.
Do you have any advice for writers on handling rejection?
Most folks say to keep writing, and that is mostly correct. Please keep writing. Rejection just stings. If the words are who we are, the real tragedy would be a writer’s butt leaving the writing chair.
Now the mostly part. Writing for publication is a different beast than writing for joy, however much that Venn diagram overlaps. Publication demands a higher and outward-facing gear. It means purposeful editing until all joy may be lost. In that sense, rejections can do us a favor. Rejects may signal problems with target markets or with a story as written. It’s fuel. I’ve turned painful rejection into a positive quest for new levels to a piece or to my writing process. Some of those pieces found great homes, and I kept growing my craft.
What are you working on these days, and where can we read more by you?
I’m plugging away at more short stories. The freedom of the form suits my creative drive and hectic life. I am an unabashed lover of crime fiction, especially the classics like Hammett and Chandler. Not surprisingly, I write in that genre and have sold a handful of stories to Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine among other cool outlets. A couple of those are somewhere in the publication queue and probably my next thing out.
Thanks for doing this interview with me, and congratulations!
The pleasure is all mine, believe me. Thanks for making “Snap Bam Boom” part of The Forge Literary Magazine. I’m honored my stuff appears in such a terrific journal.