Guest Post from Sara Hosey
Sara Hosey is the author of three young adult novels: Iphigenia Murphy, Imagining Elsewhere, and Summer People. Her short fiction been shortlisted for the Katherine Anne Porter Prize and the American Short Fiction Halifax Ranch Prize and has appeared in journals like Cordella Literary Magazine and Mudroom Magazine. She is a parent, a community college professor, and a tree enthusiast.
“Only Connect!”: Ideas and Inspirations
I often develop stories by thinking through a hypothetical situation or question. I was once in my local supermarket, for example, and for a split second I thought I saw something obscene on the flatscreen television about the checkout line. When I looked again, I saw that I had been mistaken; it was just an unappetizing shot of some squash. But I kind of laughed to myself and thought, what would I do if it had been an obscene picture? Would anyone else have noticed? Would I have continued to watch the screen to see if it cycled back around again? This situation became the opening for my story “Not for Everyone,” in which a mother character sees what she believes is a “dirty” picture in the supermarket. It freaks her out, and becomes the instantiating event of the story, which traces a daughter’s realization that although her parents are not unambivalently bad people, they are in fact profoundly dysfunctional, and, in many ways, hateful.
Similarly, sometimes a word or phrase or even a joke will come into my mind and that will be the anchor for a story, or I’ll hear or read about a concept, and I’ll ruminate about it until it works its way into a story. I came across an article one day that said that, before they were aquatic, dolphins had been land mammals. What? Dolphins had walked around on the earth? I found this amazing, and I incorporated it into my story, “Land Mammals,” in which the main character, Lexi, uses the idea of leaving behind one kind of life and moving into another medium, going somewhere that others cannot easily follow, as a way of grappling with the loss entailed by her mother’s dementia.
I am also endlessly inspired by my friends and relationships. I try to surround myself with people who interest and invigorate me. I thank many friends in Dirty Suburbia’s “Acknowledgements,” and some of them are people I haven’t spoken to, literally, in years, but whose lives or behavior or just general way of being impressed or inspired me somehow. I’m fortunate too, to have friends that make me laugh and who sometimes let me borrow their jokes, and they are acknowledged as well.
And it’s only now, as I consider the book as a whole, that I’m realizing how many of the stories end with two people, usually women, sometimes strangers, taking care of or supporting each other. Not all the stories end happily, and when they don’t, I think it’s because characters are left without that sense of being understood or belonging. I feel that short fiction is particularly well-suited for exploring this fumbling-towards-connection, and many of the authors whose work most inspires me—Kelly Fordon and Joel Mowdy and Jess Walter and Chelsea Bieker—so deftly conjure complex characters who try—and sometimes succeed—in breaking through. It’s what E.M. Forster called for, over a century ago: “Only connect!” To me, the most inspiring art is art that explores, and sometimes as a result enacts, this idea.
About the book
Dirty suburbias are working-class neighborhoods in which girls who are left to fend for themselves sometimes become predators, as well as affluent communities in which women discover that money is no protection against sexism, both their own and others’.
One young woman sets up her abusive, cheating boyfriend, hoping he’ll get arrested so that she can rescue him and win him back. A teenager arranges to meet up with an older man she’s met online playing video games; she brings a knife with her, just in case. A middle-aged divorcee attempts to rekindle a romantic relationship with her high school English teacher, who happens to be a former nun. A struggling academic falls in love with a Henry David Thoreau impersonator, and a well-adjusted grad student goes home for Christmas only to be repulsed by her family’s casual cruelty.
Despite the ugliness and injustice they face, as well as the failures of their families and communities, these characters often find relief in friendship and connection, and sometimes, even discover meaning and cause for hope.