Jessica Westhead, "Flamingo"
Welcome to December. To kick off the calendar, here's a brand-new story from the author of And Also Sharks.
How would you describe your story?
JESSICA WESTHEAD: A grieving mother and father try (and fail) to cheer themselves up after their child dies. The story is a little funny, a lot sad, somewhat strange, and involves gummy candy.
When did you write it, and how did the writing process compare to your other work?
JW: I wrote "Flamingo" last year. The Las Vegas section basically just spilled out of me, but then I had no idea what the story was actually about, and it took me quite a while to figure that out. At one point I thought, What's the worst possible thing I can imagine happening to me? Then I had my plot and things moved more quickly from there, but the story went through a number of revisions before I was finally satisfied with it. This is how my writing process usually goes these days. I almost always start out with a character or scene that intrigues me, and then I try to puzzle out where the story is going. Once I've sketched out the overall idea, I go to my handy shelf of notebooks and look for bits of past writing that feel like they might fit with the story (those bits don't always make the cut, but they give me momentum because suddenly I've got a longer piece of writing to work with). When I have a few scenes that seem to connect somehow, I fill in the blanks to get to my first draft. Then I revise the bejesus out of it.
What, for you, are the essential elements of a good short story?
JW: A good short story should grab the reader from the very first paragraph. And the reader should want to keep reading—not because of the beautiful prose (though of course that helps), but because they want to know what happens next.
Did this story require any research?
JW: In a way… but it was unintentional. My husband and I took a trip to Las Vegas with some friends before I wrote the story, so I had all these crazy details I wanted to use somehow. We'd been there together once before, but I'd forgotten what a sad, desperate, surreal place it is. It was also the first time we'd been away from our young daughter for a few days in a row, so I was feeling extra raw. I did enjoy being a silly, irresponsible, temporarily child-free adult with my husband and our friends for a weekend, but overall the trip was pretty depressing, and I missed our daughter quite a bit (she was whooping it up with her grandparents so she was happy as a clam). The worst part for me was seeing all the miserable little kids being dragged along on their parents' late-night gambling sprees. We started a drinking game where we had to swig some booze every time we saw a wailing child being ignored by their slot-machine-yanking mother or father. Fun times! It turns out that Sin City is indeed pretty sinny. Who knew?
Where can people go to learn more about you and your work?
JW: My online home is www.jessicawesthead.com.
What's on your Christmas list this year?