Friday, July 12, 2019

#62 Inside the Emotion of Fiction: I LOVE YOU I'M LEAVING by Vic Sizemore

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****Vic Sizemore’s I LOVE YOU I’M LEAVING is #62 in the never-ending series called INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific excerpt from a fiction genre and how that fiction writer wrote that specific excerpt.  All INSIDE THE EMOTION OF FICTION links are at the end of this piece. 

Name of fiction work? And were there other names you considered that you would like to share with us? The book’s title is I Love You I’m Leaving. I didn’t consider any other titles for this particular collection but the stories in it were configured in different ways in two other collections, neither of which have been accepted for publication. I decided to try to group them loosely based on a theme, and these stories are obviously about leaving people/places you love, or being left by them.

Fiction genre?  Ex science fiction, short story, fantasy novella, romance, drama, crime, plays, flash fiction, historical, comedy, movie script, screenplay, etc.  And how many pages long? This collection is literary fiction I guess, by which I simply mean character driven instead of primarily plot driven. There’s always plot and the character’s act of course, but the narrative drive of these stories is more dependent on changes taking place within one or more of the characters than on external plot developments.

Has this been published? And it is totally fine if the answer is no.   If yes, what publisher and what publication date? Yes. It was published in October of 2018 by a small literary press called Big Table Publishing in Boston.

What is the date you began writing this piece of fiction and the date when you completely finished the piece of fiction? I wrote the stories over the course of about ten years, beginning around 2007.

Where did you do most of your writing for this fiction work?  And please describe in detail.  And can you please include a photo? In a back walled-off space of my basement, behind the laundry room, tucked away from the bustle of the rest of the house. It smells of laundry and an endless supply of camel crickets find their way in summer and winter. I call it my writing cave. I’ll attach a photo along with this questionnaire.

What were your writing habits while writing this work- did you drink something as you wrote, listen to music, write in pen and paper, directly on laptop; specific time of day? I do take notes throughout the day as things occur to me about the story I’m working on, or ideas for stories I want to write. My writing time is from 5-7 a.m. every day, before anyone else is awake and before I have to get ready for my day. My mind is fresh, uncluttered from work and chores and social media. Of course, this means that by 2 in the afternoon I’m pretty much worthless.

What is the summary of this specific fiction work? Various stories, almost all of them set in West Virginia, and almost all of them peopled with those you might consider down-and-out, or in some kind of extreme situation, leaving or being left.

Can you give the reader just enough information for them to understand what is going on in the excerpt? A woman cannot afford to get her driver’s license back after losing it because she was unable to pay a fine. In an act of desperation, she flees a police officer in her van—her young children are with her—and leads the officer on a high-speed chase that ends in tragedy.

Please include the excerpt and include page numbers as reference.  The excerpt can be as short or as long as you prefer.

     In October, Nadine got a letter from the State of North Carolina Department of Transportation:

Effective 12:01 a.m., 11/01/2010, your North Carolina driving privilege is scheduled for an indefinite suspension in accordance with general statute 20-24-1 for failure to appear… During this suspension, you are prohibited from driving a motor vehicle in the State of North Carolina.

     She laughed aloud. Fine, she thought. Fuck you. I won’t drive in the State of North Carolina. She crumpled the letter and threw it away.
     The van was hemorrhaging oil now. People stopped at lights to tell her that her motor was smoking, like she couldn’t see it right there in front of her face. But it kept running. A good van. She felt a genuine gratitude and affection for the poor old thing. It was her freedom, that van, what kept her mobile, and, sure, she was thankful for that. The kids weren’t getting sick. They were as strong and resilient as mutt dogs, like poor kids usually are. That much was a blessing too.
     Her hours stayed cut. She fell further behind on the bills. She got one cash advance, and then couldn’t pay it back. Gas went up to $3.22 a gallon, and she could barely keep fuel in the van, much less buy the one quart of oil it was bleeding into a black patch of dirt in front of their house each week. She mixed water into the milk to make it go farther. Bennie said, “This tastes like piss.” She said, “No, it tastes like water.” But he kept drinking it. The landlord dropped by some plastic that she and Bennie stapled over the windows, and she was thankful he did it while she was at work, so the matter of rent didn’t have to come up. She blocked off the back room by nailing a blanket over the door so they wouldn’t have to heat it. They blocked off the upstairs with plastic. They lived in the living room and her bedroom, the four of them, stayed close to the space heaters. It wasn’t so bad; it was cozy. They played games and sang, and watched the two channels of fuzzy TV they could still get. Cops was one of the shows they watched. Maddie and Rory called the show “Bad boys, bad boys,” and cheered when it came on.
     They had some Ramen noodles and frozen chicken left from her last paycheck. They still had heat. She didn’t have any money, but she still had $60.00 left on her overdraft protection at the bank. That would feed them until she got paid again at the beginning of November. North Carolina could go fuck itself, she wasn’t paying them a damn thing; she daydreamed about writing them a letter telling them as much. That would feel good.
     She could have written them a letter that would have shamed them. She wasn’t stupid, and she’d done some writing, had even taken a creative writing class one semester during her two years over at State. She’d hated it. All those little kids with money sitting inside those comfortable walls talking about subtlety and insight, using words like epiphany and aha. They hadn’t liked her story about the guy who made babies he didn’t feed and cooked meth in his grandmother’s basement, and saw his best friend get shot dead by John Law, and then went to prison while the Law razed his grandmother’s house and put a lien on her property to pay for it. 
“It’s too much,” her classmates had told her. “It’s too sensational.” The teacher had said, “It’s like trying to carry an iron safe in a canoe.” “But it really happened,” she’d said. “That’s not the point,” the teacher had told her. All the students who had written their little boyfriend/girlfriend/coming-of-age stories had looked at her like she was the one who didn’t know anything. 
     What the fuck did they know about her world, where people didn’t have the luxury of sitting around waiting for epiphanies to pop like soft little orgasms inside their headsout in her world it was all wild and violent change. She’d dropped the class. One semester after that she’d run out of money for school anyway. Who was she kidding. Writing a letter wouldn’t do her any more good than writing a story. She had other, more pressing, things to worry about. 
     Her October paycheck was $772.00. That had to get them through November. Her choice was to pay the rent, or buy food and gas so she could keep getting to work. She could look under the van and see oil dripping steadily from two different places now, and when she drove the smoke streamed white around the edges of her hood like a steady smoldering fire under green leaves. The other day she drove to the library in the rain to drop off movies. Walking across the parking lot she noticed the oil path she’d left on the lot, a steady string of little rainbow explosions, kaplow, plow, plow, leading right to her van. 
     When she came back out, the oil rainbow had swirled from under the van all the way to the silver Nissan beside her. The tire treads were worn smooth, and metal shined through in spots, some places even splitting off in little wiry threads. The next day, driving the kids to the Y before school, her hands trembled. She knew it was only a matter of time and they’d be stranded somewhere. She gripped the wheel and pressed lightly on the gas, and willed the van to keep running.
     Three bills came in the mail that night: car insurance of $89.00 three times over, plus an unspecified reinstatement fee (her inspection was due and she knew the van wouldn’t pass without work, which she couldn’t afford); a cut off notice from the phone company if she didn’t get them their $124.00 immediately; the electric bill for the last two months of $170.93. Her heat was electric so she had to figure something out there. There was also a letter from the West Virginia DMV. She tore it open and read:

Your privilege to operate motor vehicles in West Virginia will be suspended effective December 1, 2010, at 12:01 a.m., because North Carolina has filed with DMV the following non-compliance citation:

Citation no: 3E43418      
Date of citation: June 23, 2010
Court telephone no: (704) 686-0600       
Offense location: Charlotte

The reinstatement requirements listed in this order may change without prior notice. Any fees owed to the state in which the citation occurred should be paid to that state.

They were all in cahoots, the fucking bastards. North Carolina had to have the $150.00, plus a $100.00 late fee, plus whatever court costs would be, and now West Virginia had to have $85.00 from her, and she had to go to the DMV and prove that she was in the United States legally. Plus another $50.00 to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, for whateverpay some alcoholic to prop himself up in the middle of the road on a stop sign. The kids were all out front playing. Maddie rode her bike around the house, counting the laps to Nadine every time. She rode by, barely keeping her balance. The bike was too big. “One hundred and forty three,” she said, which was a skip of about six laps. Rory sat on his yellow school bus scooter with handles on top and kicked it up and down the sidewalk. His little legs straightened behind him like a swimming duck’s feet. Bennie was slamdunking a volleyball on the low basketball rim down by the road. He looked up at her and shouted, “What’s for dinner? I’m starving.” Rory echoed, “I’m starving.”
     Inside Nadine boiled the last three packets of beef Ramen noodles, only using two of the flavor packs because Bennie acted like the taste made him gag. She had chicken thigh meat she’d boiled and frozen, which she thawed and chopped up and mixed into the noodles for some protein. She went to the front door and hollered that it was dinnertime. Rory lunged sideward off his scooter and rolled in the grass. He pushed himself up and ran for the door. Bennie walked. Maddie was around back on her bike. It was dark outside now, but they were way out Davis Creek, with no one else around, except this family of inbreds a ways down who shied off to themselves like a pack of raccoons. She and the kids were safe out here. She could gather them in and close the door; they had food; the heat was not cut off; she had four diapers left for Rory: at least for this night, everything was okay.
Why is this excerpt so emotional for you?  And can you describe your own emotional experience of writing this specific excerpt? My father was a Baptist preacher and he took a church in rural West Virginia. I grew up around the rural poor and knew well there desperate circumstances. They really are in no-win situations. Poverty is not just something these people can work harder and defeat. 
     I had seen a news piece about a woman who ran from the police, with her kids in her minivan, and caused a tragic accident. People were saying they couldn’t imagine what would make a woman do a thing like that, but I knew what would. Desperation. As I wrote this, my throat was tight with apprehension, even though I knew what was going to happen, knew this woman was not going to beat her circumstances. I felt grief for her.

Were there any deletions from this excerpt that you can share with us? And can you please include a photo of your marked up rough drafts of this excerpt. I don’t have any marked up copies of a rough draft, but yes, this story went through multiple drafts, read and critiqued by a number of writing friends and my writing mentor.

Other works you have published? I’ve published a number of stories and essays in literary journals. I have an essay collection about leaving conservative evangelical Christianity coming out in March, 2020 with The University of Alabama Press.

Vic Sizemore is the author of the short story collection I Love You I’m Leaving and the essay collection Goodbye, My Tribe. His fiction and nonfiction appear in Story Quarterly, North American Review, Southern Humanities Review, storySouth and many other literary journals. His fiction has won the New Millennium Writings Award and has been nominated for Best American Nonrequired Reading, Best of the Net, and several Pushcart Prizes. Sizemore lives and writes in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.


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