Commentary on “A Brief Interruption”
“A Brief Interruption” was the third story I finished after returning to writing a couple years ago. I hadn’t written any fiction for over fifteen years, since just after college, back when I worshipped J. D. Salinger and really loved the idea of writing but lacked the discipline and thick skin to stick to it. This story came out of that mid-life cri—, um, well, let’s just call it that “reappraisal” period. I was feeling something like Robert Spencer with a nice no complaints life cruising along on autopilot and was thinking about what men tend to do around forty—the cars, the trips, the weird new hobbies etc. Being in academia, I hit on a topic I’ve seen and heard about in that cloistered little world over the years. So I picked an old soft spoken professor from grad school who I’m ninety-nine percent sure would never do such a thing and set out to see what would happen if he, you know, tried it. Turns out nothing good.
That’s one piece of the story, anyhow. The other piece has to do with Susan, the student. “A Brief Interruption” went on to become part of a collection I recently finished that broadly deals with disability, something I think and teach and talk about a lot in my line of work. Before I knew I was writing a themed collection, I knew I wanted to attempt a believable character with mental illness who may not necessarily come out on top in the end, but isn’t a victim either. This was the first time in my fiction I looked at things like self-stigma, advocacy, agency: all themes that, in most of my later stories, end up driving character development and plot. This one was originally called “Some Kind of a Fling” from a line of Susan’s that was eventually taken out thanks to a beta reader’s helpful comments. As she regained some power and moved on with her head high, Robert came to realize the hole he’d dug for himself. Fling didn’t seem like quite the right word after that.
Regarding craft, I have perfectionistic tendencies so I revise every time I open the Word doc, usually starting at the beginning and then adding more and more until I can stick the landing. This one went on like that for about a month. Probably gonna have to find another system now that I’ve started my first novel.
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Ryan Pollard is a clinical professor and speech therapist at the University of Colorado Boulder. His debut publication was recently nominated for the PEN/Robert J. Dau Short Story Prize and his fiction has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, South Shore Review, and Litro Magazine. His stories tend to center on the experiences of people with disabilities.