Finding the Form with Mary-Lynn Murphy
I wasn’t working on a specific project at the time I wrote “Recalculating” and had no ideas in mind, so I approached the page with a familiar mixture of anticipation and hopelessness. I often begin by putting something—anything—on the page, sometimes just what I see out the window. Something to get the pen moving. The first line of writing that day was this: “There are things you want to outlive. Others you don’t.” I have no idea what that was all about, but what I wrote next began the ramblings that turned into “Recalculating.” That’s often how things go.
Not much of what I write is planned in advance; I just follow where the pen takes me. The “silent type” with the chainsaw at the beginning of this story had shown up before in writing that didn’t lead anywhere; I didn’t know what to do with him. This time, I found his opposite, and that ended up giving shape to the piece. The second-person point of view was there from the beginning of this effort; it seemed to drive the writing in a way.
I’m drawn to work by writers like Amy Hempel, whose stories are often very short and don’t always follow “the rules” about structure—at least not that I can see. So I find myself wondering, what is a story? Even when I reached what seemed to be the end of this piece after several revisions, I had no idea whether it was a story.
I’m grateful to be a member of a small writing group whose focus is critiquing each other’s work. I submitted “Recalculating” to the group one time when I had little else to offer. After making a few good editing suggestions, they told me to submit it somewhere as a piece of flash fiction. And now it’s in TNQ; I guess it is a story after all.
Mary-Lynn Murphy’s poetry and fiction have appeared in The New Quarterly, The Antigonish Review, Event, The Fiddlehead, FreeFall, Grain and Dandelion. She was a prize winner in TNQ’s 2012 Occasional Verse contest. Her novel, Finding Grace, was published by Scrivener Press in 2013. She lives in Northern Ontario, near Superior’s eastern shore.