Andrew Wingfield is the author of a novel, Hear Him Roar, and a story collection, Right of Way. His stories and essays have appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Antioch Review, Terrain, and other magazines. He directs the Environmental and Sustainability Studies program at George Mason University. His essay "Back to Middle Earth" will appear in the Fall 2017 issue of Carve. Preorder or subscribe by Sunday, October 1, for special savings and discounts.
We receive a lot of stories that revolve around illnesses, often written from the perspective of someone close to the person who is ill. At the same time, we pass on many of these submissions because it is difficult to turn a story about something we all face into an original and affecting piece. What advice would you provide to aspiring writers about approaching common themes?
Most of the themes we write about have been written about a million times already. You can't let that reality stop you from following your emotions and curiosity into material that draws you. Artists embrace the challenge of making the familiar new again by uncovering what is unique in their experience and resisting the constant temptation to succumb to cliché. I'm tempted to say, "Go for it!"—but that would be a cliché.
“Back to Middle Earth” takes a look at a father and son, relationships that inherently draw comparisons about the traits and tastes we pass down from one generation to the next, and relationships that can be fraught with expectations and assumptions. In writing a story like this, and during the process of writing, do you think it’s helpful to examine other father-son relationships to help articulate your own, or should the focus remain solely within how we, as individuals, perceive these relationships?
Character is fate, Heraclitus said. This is true in both literature and parenting. Your personality determines who and how you are as a parent. More than anything you read, or anything you see acted out on a stage or screen, it's your nature and your lived experience that shape the relationship you have with your child. Such bonds are dynamic, of course, so the child's nature also determines the contours of the relationship in significant ways. In writing about such a relationship, I'm most interested in trying to understand it from the inside.
In the essay, your son displays characteristics of a young man trying to navigate the inherent social expectations of masculinity, athleticism, and social acceptance while still remaining true to the vulnerable, impressionable sides of him that crave books and solitude. As a parent and a teacher, how do you believe we can continue to encourage the interpersonal journey while allowing for the necessary and eventual need of group acceptance?
For most kids, carving out a solid social niche is a much more pressing and conscious concern than is staying connected to a more private, interior self. But that private self also needs nourishment and it's the job of parents and teachers to open up the space, time and opportunity for such nourishment to continue through adolescence. For my son, reading provides connection to that interior self. Other kids will find it through the channels that suit them—if given the right kinds of opportunity and support.