Arts & Culture / Mosaic / April 22, 2010

Stories of the mind: an empathetic adventurer

With his weathered appearance and his cowboy boots, Brad Watson appeared to be more of a gentleman adventurer than the archetypical writer. As he read Wild Wild Pigs, Ordinary Monsters and Water Dog God to the large crowd gathered in the Red Room Friday, April 16, it occurred to me that perhaps that is because he is, in fact, an adventurer of sorts.

His stories do not have a theme or commonality running through them, except perhaps for the presence of dogs. Instead, he flings himself into the minds and lives of wild pigs that have their own gods and rituals or perfectly ordinary zombies going about their lives.

His three published works ­— Last Days of the Dog-Men which won the Sue Kauffman Award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters for first collection of stories, a novel called The Heaven of Mercury, which was a finalist for the National Book Award and a collection of stories, Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives ­— contain a variety of situations and characters, from the semi-autobiographical title story in Aliens to stories told from the dog’s perspective.

When asked how he could imagine what it is like to be in the minds of his many different characters, Watson said, “Anyone who wants to be a fiction writer must have empathy […]it’s a natural part of the character of anyone built to write fiction.”

When asked after the reading whether he could talk about the places he had lived and how they affected his stories Watson replied that living in other places had given him some distance and perspective.

He was able to see his hometown as an outsider would and “if there is forgetting, [it] allows you to embellish with your imagination” without feeling constrained by reality.

Another questioner asked Watson to define what makes flash fiction (very short fiction pieces) work because the first two pieces Watson read were the results of a flash fiction workshop he had led.

He stated that flash fiction was very hard to write and define, but when he writes flash fiction, he attempts to just “go in there and try to find one central incident […] that goes beyond what’s on the page.”

When interviewed after the reading, Laura Jorgenson, a junior in her first English class, commented that Watson’s description of flash fiction and the examples he shared really helped her see how to put the pieces of a story together and how to set the mood in a few lines.

Sara Patterson

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