Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read W. T. Paterson’s fiction piece, The Death of Punk
Sommer: There’s a propulsion and frenetic energy to the prose in this story, which perfectly reflects and amplifies the characters’ personalities and the plotline. Part of this energy and pacing is accomplished by your sentence structure: short sentences that sometimes aren’t grammatically complete (“Guitar palms, fingers pushing frets, chords ringing louder than metal machines.”). It makes for a fresh, exciting, compelling read. Did this style just come to you as you began writing this story? Was it kind of like a lock-and-key fit? Or was this something you had to consciously craft as you rolled out the story?
W. T.: It’s funny—this story went through about four or five opening paragraphs before I really found something worth digging my heels into. The very, very first draft was actually about vampires lurking in a dark alley and sat at about 100 words. Naturally there wasn’t much substance, but the way I had formed a single sentence reminded me of Keroac and his beat-generation prose, so I went back and read through passages of On the Road. The jazzy musicality of Keroac’s storytelling synced with an idea I’d been brewing about a punk rocker aging out of the music scene and how devastated he felt letting go of the only dream he’s ever known. I thought, if I could tell his story through a punk song, what would that look like? That’s about when everything took shape and that creative spark came to life. I imagined each section as its own punk song that hit hard, fast, and moved with a shrieking velocity.
And on that note, how do you think the nuts ‘n bolts of language and sentence structure themselves influence a story? Or perhaps there’s nothing “nuts ‘n boltsy” about it: the language, through an infinity of creative manipulations, is often the very story itself?
Absolutely! I think bold, artistic choices open otherwise unforeseen doors as long as it’s done with purpose and intention. If I started with the jagged punk prose, but suddenly transitioned into a more traditional prose, I don’t think the story would have worked. It would have lost something. We’re taught to follow the rules of grammar, and the majority of successful work does. Sentences start, they have adjectives and verbs, and they end, but so do company-wide memos and greeting cards. The way in which a story gets told is what makes it memorable. That consistency of style sells it. The lack of things like quotations for dialogue, and paragraph indents were a very conscious choice. I believe that how a story looks and reads is equally as important as what a story says.
What led you to decide to not give specific names to Boy and Girl?
It felt like the most punk thing to do—to strip a character of their identity and distill their essence to the equivalent of a power-chord. Punk is rebellion, it’s a middle finger to the establishment, so withholding names for Boy and Girl kept up with that energy and mentality. In an earlier draft, I toyed with the idea of giving them names like Patchwork and Ink, but I felt like names made them too delicate to drive a story that thrives on chaos, both internally and externally.
And speaking of which: not specifically naming Boy and Girl makes me aware of the author’s presence that for me adds an interesting complexity. We know that all stories are creations, so why not bring to the table the ways in which the author sinks in? (In fact, I think this is the writer’s “voice,” something that can elude less mature writers). What are your thoughts on the author’s purpose and presence in the stories s/he creates?
Growing up, I went to shows like the ones described and hold a fond nostalgia for basement shows, for sweaty VFW’s with a line-up of local emo, screamo, punk, and hardcore acts, for rundown all-ages clubs with lighting rigs so hot that band members legitimately passed out mid set. By making the reader aware of my presence as a storyteller, ideally I’m able to gain credibility and trust because I can get the details right. It’s my way of saying I’ve lived this, or I know a lot about this, so trust me to get you through it. It’s that type of ethos that lends itself to an authentic voice and allows an audience to submit to the journey because, at least in my experience, they sense the speaker is writing from a place of wisdom.
Favorite punk band?
Oh yikes, where do we start? I was a massive fan of screamo bands in the early 2000s like Thursday, Thrice, HUM, Saves the Day, and Converge. There were a few local acts that I was really into too, like this short-loved Canadian band Fighting Crime, and a hometown art-core band Disantiun Skass. I’d offer to run errands as a means to listen to their basement-recorded demo cassette tape in my mom’s minivan.
Do you have any advice for writers on handling rejection?
Trust that fire inside you, the one that made you put your ideas into motion. Rejection sucks, but try to let it fuel the fire instead of squashing it. If you can sit down two months after a draft and feel that same fire that made you tell the story to begin with, follow it. Trust it. If you can’t, ask yourself how you can get it back. The right reader, editor, or audience is out there. It has to be. I mean, SpongeBob Squarepants is a phenomenon and look at how insane that show is. Really break it down. Remember, your ideas, no matter how unusual, are worth pursuing because they’re important to you.
Thank you for doing this with me, and congratulations!