Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Jason Vredenburg’s fiction piece, Past Tense
Sommer: The point of contention between this couple—the central problem—is never explicitly stated or revealed in this story. How did you decide what and what not to focus on, and was it difficult to find that balance between giving enough information and leaving the rest in the story’s negative spaces?
Jason: In an early draft I tried briefly to play out the specifics that start the argument, but I struggled to make those details interesting and instead just found myself drawn to the underlying structure of how differently they interact with the idea of the past, as if that was the argument that most of their arguments, whatever the particular context or precipitating event, eventually become. Once I focused on that, the balance felt like it flowed very naturally from that tension.
I love the intellectual play between notions of the past, present, and future in this story, especially given the context of miscarriage. It seems like when it comes to getting pregnant and having babies, an understanding and acknowledgment of the past does not, sadly, guarantee a different outcome in the future (because the process is largely out of our control). Does the Santayana quote ever become irrelevant for these characters? Or does its comfort override a certain reality?
I think you hit on it exactly with the idea of comfort. It’s like a security blanket for them. As you say, it doesn’t really apply to the framing trauma—it can’t help them move past that, but it provides a means to move out of this particular moment together. It’s idiomatic, I suppose, to their particular language.
And on that note, how do we make sure that the past doesn’t become like a tether, keeping us and our children from moving into a healthy future? At what point do we decide to walk away from the past?
I certainly struggle with it at times. It can be difficult to balance, because there are so many factors that come into play in figuring out when our relationship with the past becomes unproductive for our present or future. But we have to maintain our orientation: the past is always potentially useful and always potentially dangerous, but the future is coming at us either way.
Do you have any favorite books or stories that work successfully with this theme of time? I find that it can be a difficult thing to write about!
I agree—especially in short fiction, because playing around with time can damage the narrative momentum, which I suppose is sometimes a challenge for me anyway. So the first examples that come to mind are novels, like Zadie Smith’s White Teeth or Steinbeck’s East of Eden. But a few short stories come to mind too: “Finishing Touch,” by Claire-Louise Bennett, is written in the present, with the narrator projecting her thoughts on a party that plays out in the future. Rachel Glaser’s “Pee on Water” is a joyful hopscotch from the beginning of time through all of human evolution and into the future. It’s pretty amazing.
Do you have any advice for writers on handling rejection, and on staying motivated?
It is difficult but inevitable. If you’re fortunate, you’ll get some feedback that you can make productive use of to make yourself or your work stronger. Ignore the voices of doubt, especially when it’s calling from inside the house, and keep moving forward. It’s tough, but at least it means you’re putting yourself out there, which can be tough in and of itself.
Thank you very much for doing this interview with me, and congratulations!
Thank you—one of the things I love about reading The Forge is that the interviews always feel insightful and engaging, so I appreciate the opportunity to participate!