Robert Morgan Fisher’s fiction “If It Hurts” was featured in the third issue of Spry Literary Journal. We were fortunate to share some of his writing again in the ABCs of Fiction Writing series. We hope you enjoy this interview between Jason Hill and Robert Morgan Fisher as much as we do.
Jason Hill: The blurry line between fiction and creative non-fiction is mentioned a lot these days, how do you see “If It Hurts” in relation to that line and the process of its creation?
Robert Morgan Fisher: “If It Hurts” is purely a work of fiction. There are some details family members and friends would probably point to–as we often do–in an attempt to fan the flames of curiosity. But that’s what fiction writers do: ingest life experience and pour it into a story. Some of this nourishment comes out the other end looking like it did on the plate. Any attempt to separate the “facts” from the “fiction” are ultimately futile, in my view, as I’m of the opinion that all memoir, even so-called “exact” accounts inexorably fall under the banner of fiction. It’s just too hard to parse it–I leave that to the archeologists and gossipmongers. Many of Raymond Carver’s stories seemed ripped directly from his hard-luck life–much to the chagrin of loved ones. He had a pact with his first wife Marianne and later, Tess Gallagher, to never tell. Just let the story or poem speak for itself. I subscribe to that. I’m not saying there’s no such thing as Creative Non-Fiction–I just like to give all writers the license to make things up, embellish.
JH: This story feels very personal and in the comments section you mention that there is a lot of you in it. What personal elements did you feel most drawn out by the story as you conceived it?
RMF: I did weep when I first saw those homecoming videos on YouTube. I wept–and then got angry, just like the protagonist. I knew I had to write about it. It’s one thing to watch a war movie like, say, American Sniper (which was far from release when I wrote this story). All movies cheapen reality–there’s no getting around that. Here on YouTube we had home movies–and I suppose I detected a little cheapening of reality in these homecoming vids. They are emotionally manipulative, no question. That was certainly part of it. Also, I was insanely jealous! I did have a warrior father who was gone for long periods of time–it impacted my family in unfathomable ways. It’s a subject I’ve explored in many short stories–a whole (unpublished) collection’s worth called You Stay Here. I keep adding new stories to it. All the stories cohere around the idea that, to quote Pat Conroy: “The children of warriors in our country learn the grace and caution that come from a permanent sense of estrangement.” There are strong autobiographical elements and currents in almost every story. So yes, in a way I lived “If It Hurts.” At the end of the piece, the protagonist is on the fence about sending the link to his father. I wanted to convey the frustration, futility and hope of that moment. Whether he sends it or not is immaterial–it all comes down to the irretrievability of what’s been lost.
JH: There is a moment in the story when the narrator talks about an “ancient confession” and the narrator locks his door before watching these videos, out of guilt or the need to be alone in confession. How did the idea of confession and solitude in that confession inform the piece as you wrote it?
RMF: Warrior families are often Catholic. The faith is a good fit with the spartan, self-flagellating lifestyle of the military. Jewish families have nothing on warrior families when it comes to guilt–though there are a surprising number of Jewish warriors in our armed forces. It is a diverse bunch of people these days and it’s more accommodating to alternative lifestyles and individual rights. In Basic Training, from what I understand, there is a much more politically-correct approach these days. Women in the fighting force, LGBT–all positive developments. But in the world l grew up in, it was very Great Santini to a large extent. My father was not Bull Meechum. In fact, he was a little older than this peers and much more progressive. But there was discipline if you broke the rules–sometimes it was tough. That’s part of the whole “confession” thing: What would he think? My father’s still with us, by the way. I have a wonderful relationship with him. I don’t even know if he’s read this story, LOL. He hasn’t mentioned it to me–maybe once it comes out in a book he’ll read it.
JH: The final video in the story features a reaction unlike any of the others. Was this a real video you found or did you generate it to fit the needs of your narrative?
RMF: Great question. This video is almost a fabrication. I did see a video where they surprised a very young boy with his father, as they do, and the poor kid was completely unprepared for it. I took it to the next level as a fiction writer and made it into a set piece. It was one of the most emotionally-wrenching writing experiences of my life. I wanted a tour-de-force moment.
JH: There is an obvious connection between that video and the narrator’s feelings about his own father’s many goings and comings, but why do you think the child in that video reacted as he did?
RMF: Because love is difficult. It can overwhelm. All adrenaline is fight or flight. I wanted to illustrate the intensity and awkwardness of reunion and have the reader share in the father’s disconcerting bafflement.
JH: Lastly, if you’re a betting man, what do you think the narrator’s father would say in reaction to this story?
RMF: I guess you’re asking: did he send it or not? I’ll never tell! I want the reader to imagine that for themselves–especially if they’re a father.
Jason Hill studied creative writing in the MFA program at Spalding University. He holds a BA in English from the University of Kentucky and an MA in Philosophy from the University of Connecticut. His work has appeared in The Austin Review and Tulane Review. His current whereabouts are unknown, but you can follow him @aguycalledjason.