I need to offer a public mea culpa with today’s Sunday Shorts. I had intended to have this ready for release to coincide with the month of release of the magazine, Foglifter, in which the story appeared, which was—cough—last November. Then I managed to have a spectacular ice fall (among other things) and everything sort of stuttered to a stop for a bit.
But! One of the great things about great shot ficition like Ricker’s “Shepherd”? It’ll wait for you.
You should haven’t wait for Jeffrey Ricker, though, and for that I apologize.
Foglifter is a queer journal and press, but more than that. We want powerful writing, intersectional writing, that queers our perspectives; writing that explores the sometimes abject, sometimes shameful, but always honest and revelatory experience; writing that calls into question the things we believe to be true, the things we believe to be known, and turns them on their head for–at least–a moment of consideration. There are many considerations out there. We want them all to be heard.
Okay, let’s talk “Shepherd.”
NB: One of my favourite things about short fiction is how sometimes, less can be so much more. You’ve got two men escaping the city to a cabin retreat in “Shepherd,” and we find out the bare minimum about them: one is ill, one works hard, their relationship has tension intersecting somewhere in those two places. Do you find it difficult to reveal only so very much as is necessary? Or was that done on purpose at all?
JR: It’s always a challenge to figure out what are the right things to reveal, the ones that are just enough to sketch out the shape of what’s going on and provide enough details for the reader to find their way in. (Does that make sense?) It’s a balancing act, and I have to decide whether I’m telling enough or am I in too much of a hurry to get to the next part of the story? I’m always tempted to put in more, but then I have to ask, why? In the end, I try to trust that my reader is smart; although, if they don’t get something, it’s still probably my own fault.
But I try not to nail down too many of the details unnecessarily; so I don’t have to tell you that Ed is shorter than Joe or what color their hair is or their eyes or things like that, but I’ll try to pull out the details that I think might maybe make the reader wonder a bit more, like the freckles on Ed’s arms. Does he freckle because he likes being outdoors? So then, since he’s the one who travels back and forth to the city for work, does he resent that Joe gets to stay out at the cabin, and how does that make him feel, resenting that of someone who’s not all well?
NB: It’s deftly done. And now, of course, I’m going to bring up the four-legged fellow. I’ve rarely read a story with a dog in it I didn’t like, so I’m an easy mark, but what led you to using the German Shepherd in the tale as the force of change?
JR: Well, the answer to this question is closely tied to the next question, so there may be some overlap. But, I’ve been increasingly preoccupied with death lately, hence the whippoorwills and Joe’s precarious health and, at the center of things, the dog. In my reading I found dogs associated with death in European folk tales, and usually as baleful influences. (I confess that, like Joe, I haven’t gotten all the way through The Hound of the Baskervilles either.) But “dogs = evil” doesn’t really sit well with what I know of dogs. I much prefer to see them as the companions on the journey, especially the difficult ones. They’ve certainly gotten me through some tough times in my own life.
NB: Well, we all know about the dog-influence I’ve fallen under, so I don’t think I can offer an unbiased opinion, either. I know where the dog-love came from in my life. But, where did this tale come from (not just the doggy)? What brought Ed and Joe (but, okay, yes, the doggy) to your keyboard?
JR: Blame Edward Hopper. He’s one of my favourite artists, and my favourite painting, bar none, is Cape Cod Evening. The first time I saw it, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC, I was a teenager and whenever I went to the museum, I’d spend a few minutes standing in front of it and wondering about the two people; how they were together yet clearly separate, about how the grass came right up to the front step and wasn’t that strange, and then, apart from even both the people, the dog standing in the middle of the yard, which was really more field than yard. He’s turned away from the people and is looking at something out of the frame. What is it? And the man sitting on the step has his hand out; is he beckoning the dog? Does the dog even belong to them? Why does the woman have such a closed-off posture?
Obviously, in my imagination, the dog is a symbol, Joe’s protestations to the contrary. What the dog hears is the whippoorwill. And in addition to that, I had to make it a little queer, of course.
NB: Of course. Thank you! I look forward to my next good sniffle over a dog story from you…
Jeffrey Ricker’s first novel, Detours, was published in 2011 by Bold Strokes Books. His second novel, a fantastic YA, The Unwanted, was published by Bold Strokes in 2014. His writing has appeared in many anthologies, including: Paws and Reflect, Fool for Love: New Gay Fiction, Blood Sacraments, Men of the Mean Streets, Speaking Out, Raising Hell, The Dirty Diner, and Night Shadows: Queer Horror, among others. A magna cum laude graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism, he is pursuing an MFA at the University of British Columbia.