as conducted by Cat Pleska
for her website Mouth of the Holler.
Cat: Most fiction writers write from details of reality, yet they aren’t trying to duplicate reality as they know it. Imagination is paramount; however, do you, like many other fiction writers, encounter folks who are sure a certain character portrays them? What do you tell them, if that’s so?
Belinda: I haven’t experienced such an encounter, perhaps because my characters truly are creations of my imagination. However, I’ve had several readers think that my stories are simply magnifications of real events and now I’m beset with suggestions – “You could write about this!”
But anecdotes aren’t short stories. To have fiction, you’ve got to have friction, as author Lee Smith says. Like James Still, I draw inspiration from real life, but I don’t take dictation. Often, an amusing incident will start me thinking of what-if possibilities. Sometimes, I write to work my work my way through trouble. “Solace” in The Bingo Cheaters began with a news article I read about a bereavement camp for children that was filled with survivors of 9/11. That was around the time of the anniversary of my father’s death, and on a cold, snowy day, I found myself writing a summer camp story about two boys trying to deal with loss.
And sometimes a notion just lodges itself in my imagination. “Season’s Greetings” began with nothing more than driving by a Christmas light display and defending it to someone who declared it garish. My philosophy, as a viewer, is that you can’t have too many colored lights and decorative lawn ornaments at Christmas.
Cat: You invented
Belinda: It does,
indeed. In The Bingo Cheaters, I
wanted to create a fictional landscape to give me more
freedom to roam
narrative. I almost called that creation
In most of my stories, characters discover and draw forth qualities that haven’t been apparent. I’d like to think there’s always the possibility of redemption. In “Solace,” a boy discovers he possesses the courage of the father he grieves. In “Second Sight,” a thief repents and befriends her victim. In “Gakekeeper,” Wanda discovers that she can walk away from the doughnuts.
Cat: The current postmodern style of writing fiction, especially short stories, often leaves readers scratching their heads at the conclusion, wondering what they were supposed to understand. Flash fiction, sudden fiction, as well as longer forms, all drive a particular style of writing. What style would your term your fiction?
Belinda: Readable. That postmodern style you mentioned denigrates the worthy form of the short story. “Literary” has become synonymous with “dreary.” A story ought to be about something. A story can entertain, challenge and heal. Think of masters like Flannery O’Connor, Eudora Welty and Ray Bradbury.
Whenever I present a reading, audiences always respond enthusiastically. People like short stories – they just don’t like the turgid stuff that’s being mass marketed.
Flash fiction can contain the elements that make a story compelling, but it’s too short a form for me. Character development drives my writing more than plot. My 5-year-old great-nephew, however, is an expert in the form. I’d bought a game for him with a spinner that dictates whether the story you tell will be sad or happy. Then you draw a card with a word you have to incorporate in the story. I told Andrew I’d go first so I could show him how it worked. I spun a frownie face, and the word “wet.” So I started thinking of some misty moor and trying to come up with a narrative when Andrew piped up, “I know a story!” Go ahead, I said. “Once there was a little boy,” he said solemnly. “And he wet his pants.”
Cat: There are elements of magic realism in some of your stories. Why are you attracted to this style of writing?
Belinda: Perhaps it’s an extension of the appealing idea of synchronicity – that sometimes people enter your life or events occur just as you need them or are ready to receive them. I think life is more magical than we comprehend.
Cat: What authors that you have read do you feel have influenced you?
Belinda: The idea that writing could be a vocation probably was the result of reading Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, a gift from my older sister.
Also in elementary school, memorizing Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” left me with a lasting impression of how lyrical language can create mood.
Reading Harriet Arnow’s The Dollmaker in college was a powerful awakening for me, helping me realize that I could write about my own people and about my own landscape.
Cat: Tell us about your next collection.
Belinda: I consider Buckle Up, Buttercup to be the final volume in a trilogy. Readers of the first two collections will once again encounter some familiar characters, but this time a young man named Paul Goshen is the uniting element in the book.
We first meet him as a criminal justice major at the local community college and follow him through romance, marriage, fatherhood and a career as a police officer. It’s probably both the most spiritual and the most humorous of the three collections.
Right now, it’s still in the oven. I thought I was finished, but then a certain editor, for whom I have the utmost respect, suggested that I wasn’t. . . .