Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read BD Feil’s fiction piece, Downwind
Sommer: I love the slow, meandering mood and pacing of this story, like a deep river. You seem to accomplish this, in part, by your sentence structure, beautiful use of commas, and taking your time with descriptive scenes including backstory. Some would call this a “quiet” story (the best kind!), but there’s a lot going on. When I read this story, I feel myself slowing down, diving in, luxuriating; mesmerized by the characters and setting, the emotional undercurrents and moments of humor. How did you consider movement, plot, and intrigue when writing this story, and how do you work with those elements when crafting a fairly even-keeled story?
BD: Voice, for want of a better word. I spend a long time trying to get the voice right. Not the characters’ voices necessarily nor even the narrator’s. I guess it’s the writer’s voice, a combination of style and diction and flow. It’s a mysterious notion, but I have to hear it before getting down to the regular writing, beyond the note-taking and scribbles (although all that is part of starting, too). It’s a pace, a walk, a going-along, a welcoming, an invitation to come along. William Trevor had this wonderful easy voice, this amiable pace. With him, I can always sense the spaces in between the sentences, and they speak worlds.
One of the best aspects of this story is the character you’ve created in Loretta (though Miguel is my favorite!). She reminds me of a nicer Olive Kittridge, and just like author Elizabeth Strout did with Olive, you managed to simultaneously make me shake my head at and love Loretta. Loretta is so quick to judge; she’s a bit conservative; but, as we discover, she’s also quick to epiphany and change. Would you share with us any advice you have on creating characters who are not aware of their flaws, but can still be understood and cared for by readers? Or perhaps the question is simply: any advice on creating fully realized, human characters who readers want to keep reading?
Of course, you want your characters to go somewhere, but you don’t want them to go on a rigid straight road. Even the circular drive in front of their house is better than a straight road. And doubt. I don’t give two cents to someone who doesn’t doubt. And regret. I’m wary of those people who claim if they had it all to do over again they’d do it all the same: how disingenuous! What bores! (Why do any number of politicians come to mind?)
Who do you go to for writerly inspiration? Who are your heroes, and why?
Again, William Trevor, his wonderful amble. W.S. Merwin for river-flow of his thoughts. Joseph Conrad, Virginia Woolf, always Faulkner. Elizabeth Taylor. Barbara Pym. Elizabeth Bowen. W.G. Sebald.
What are you working on these days, and what can we next read from you?
Poetry collection out in May. Lifting Myself By My Own Toes. I have a story collection which is out there at a few contests; however, if any publisher would like a look . . . (hint). It includes “Downwind.” Also, a couple longer unpublished pieces that may or may not be novellas.
Currently, I’m consumed with the pandemic, of course, and I find myself reading a lot of the older English ghost stoies of M.R. James and Walter de la Mare and E.F. Benson and the strange stories of Robert Aickman. So I think something longer is starting to get legs there and getting ready for a stroll.
Do you have any advice for writers and handling rejection?
Oh my. Not that it would help. But feel down, shed your tear, then move forward. Short-term memory is best in cases of rejection. Very short-term.
Thank you for doing this with me, and congratulations!