An Interview with Ethan Rutherford
Author of "The Peripatetic Coffin"
I took a gamble and dropped Ethan Rutherford and email to see if I could squeeze some questions from him, and whadda ya you? He's a downright nice guy! If you haven't read his short story "The Peripatetic Coffin," click here to check it out. It's a really good historical fiction piece, and that's not an easy thing to write.
So for those of you out there who enjoy writing, I present to you an interview that might just help you when you finally decide to write your first historical fiction endeavor.
1. So at some point you sat down and decided to write about this band of misfits who piloted one of the first subs during the Civil War. What inspired you to write this?
ER: I was visiting a friend in Charleston
SC, and on a walk one day, we passed a replica of the Hunley.I’d never seen—or heard of—the thing
before, but down there, everyone knows the story.And
you look at the size of it, you see the crude design (I
mean, it doesn’t even look water-tight), you read a little about it
attached explosives to a stick, basically, and then rammed the stick
ships—or, I should say, one ship) and you go: what in the world could
get someone aboard a contraption like that?What
depth of emotional despair does one have to sink down
to before this starts to seem like a reasonable idea?As
far as I know—or anyone knows, I guess—these guys weren’t
the misfits and cripples I made them out to be in the story.They may have been, but there isn’t much known
about them.They had to be
invented to some degree.So I
2. What about the characters? How did you decide to approach them? Did you have a reason in mind for making the main character something of a cast-aside?
I needed a narrator that a reader would respond to and say: well, sure, I
where this anger is coming from, and how maybe he could confuse and
his opportunity aboard the Hunley with a larger gesture of aggression
everyone who’d tormented him, who might see, in true demonstrative and
destructive action, the possibility for grace and transcendence, etc.I needed a character who would climb
aboard the Hunley for his own private reasons that were wholly apart
heroism, or martyrdom, or “taking one for the team."It
just seemed more interesting to me.So: make him
laughed at, a perpetual victim, and then give him a chance, through the
to become a nightmare of agency.That’s why he gets aboard.Who wouldn’t jump at that opportunity?
3. How much research goes into a story of this magnitude? Was there any moment where you found yourself taking liberties with the history in order for the story to feel more like a story?
ER: Not as much research as it appears, I’m afraid.I read one book—Confederates Courageous by Gerald Teaster.Apparently it’s a book for children, but it was wonderfully done.There were pictures, and diagrams, and dimensions, a glimpse of the bigger picture: everything and all you need to rev up the imagination, but not enough to bog you down.After I had a draft of the story, I read a few books about the Civil War (that’s where the Balloon Corps. came from, actually), and another book about submarines, but all that was just to make sure I hadn’t messed any facts up too royally.I think of the entire story as taking one huge liberty with history.All the facts in the story are correct, the basic information contained in the story hew as close to actual events as I could make them.At the same time, none of what happens in my story is true.It’s made up.
4. How do you approach starting a short story? Do you create an outline first, or do you find yourself "winging it" to a certain extent just to see where your imagination will take you?
man.It’s different every time.But
it generally seems that I can’t get
anywhere with a story until I’ve got the first sentence in my head, and
second sentence that, in some way, commits the story to a certain
direction.I always know, after a
day or two, where I want the story to end up, and then the writing
of a bargaining with what I’ve committed to: how can I get myself from
to point B in a graceful, pleasing, and interesting way?It never really works. I’m jealous of
people who can just wing
it, and have enough confidence in their own ability that they trust the
itself will lead them somewhere.I
have no confidence in my own ability to lead anyone anywhere, let alone
myself.So I have to know where
I’m going in my stories.This can
work, but more often than not I find that it sort of kills the pleasure
writing for writing’s sake, since I’m always writing toward a goal.I abandon a lot of stories before I
give them a fighting chance.I’m
working on loosening up.Something
suggested to me by people in all quarters of my life.
5. What advice would you give to writers interested in trying their hands at a short story based on something historical?
ER: Read, read, read until you hit that moment where you stop and go: wait, they did what?!Generally, I find that those moments I find myself going “I would never, never do anything like that” are exactly the historical moments that prove fertile for a fictive imagination.Because you are essentially saying: I don’t understand the character who was able to do X or Y, but I’m going to write about this until I do.
To visit Ethan Rutherford's Web site, click here.Â Hope you enjoyed the interview, and be sure bookmark his site if you like his writing ... there'll be plenty more to come, I think.