In his short story collection the forsaken… Chad V. Broughman expertly strings together four stories of people in their brokenness, in events that leave them with deep, invisible, and emotional scars. These stories embody what it means to be complicatedly human and to experience complex, sometimes opposing, emotions in the same instance and lifetime, not necessarily by offering comfort but by displaying the strength and fear that all people have once felt in those cocktails of emotions. While there is deep sadness and pain, there is an unspoken acceptance shown to the reader. Through trauma, family, societal ideals of strength and masculinity, and mental health issues, Broughman’s characters and their stories evoke visceral heartbreak and empathy in readers, leaving them not only mulling over the tales but reflecting on their own pasts as well.
Chad Broughman writes about what lies beneath. He tells stories of simple people with complicated secrets, brutality masked by beauty. He reels you in with mesmerizing prose and lyrical pacing, then hacks down to the bare bone. I’ve had the pleasure of being Chad’s writing coach, but now I’m just a fan. Soon, there will be a lot of us.
Susan Donovan, New York Times best-selling author and writing coach
Chad Broughman’s stories thicken as they go. Each scene builds slowly and precisely from the previous. Each moment matters. Each word serves. In this sense, Broughman is a master of the craft. This is clean and perfectly tuned storytelling. But there’s something else going on here. These stories slip into quiet places: dark corners of sorrow, hope, guilt, and a range of strange emotions that may not yet have a name. As I read Broughman’s fiction, I am left trying to identify the weird creature inhabiting my heart and head. In short, these stories do what all great art does: make us grapple, wonder, and yearn for more.
John Mauk, author of Field Notes for the Earthbound (Black Lawrence Press)
Chad Broughman’s stories are stark and beautiful, timeless and timely, rounded with subtle shifts and quiet surprises.
Scott O’Connor, author of A Perfect Universe (Simon & Schuster)
Interview with the Author
The interview below was conducted by Etchings Press editor, Kylie Setiz, over email in April 2018.
KS: What is the best advice you’ve ever been given (as a writer or otherwise)?
CB: A very established, insightful, and compassionate author once told me—well, more like demanded—that I let go of the guilt for the time and energy that it takes to follow my dreams. She reminded me that by pursuing my own goals I am showing my sons what perseverance and devotion look like firsthand. Authorship takes guts and sacrifice and many, many pre-dawn, post-dusk hours. But thanks to the tutelage of a very intuitive writer, I know that my children will be better off for having witnessed their father writing before the sun rises, working a full day, then still being an obnoxiously zealous parent at their soccer games that night. I pray that one day, when they are about to give up, they will say to themselves, “No, I can do it. I can do it all!”
KS: How do you typically go about revision for a piece? Do you have specific readers and/or editors you trust with your work?
CB: Well, I’m going to take this opportunity to confess…
I cannot tell a lie…I despise revision. To be candid, I’d rather be bludgeoned by a big metal spike. Well, okay, maybe not. But I really don’t enjoy it. The good news, though, is that I loathe it less with each passing year. I’ve learned from experiences (some good, some quite ugly) that it is essential to draft and revise, then draft again (repeat) in order to shape and maneuver a story into its best form. Truth be told, I’m not certain that I’ve ever developed a revision process, which would certainly account for my preference to be impaled.
All that said, though I can’t speak directly to any majestic drafting method, I can comment about the motivation for enduring the pains of rewriting. Because my approach to revision is helter-skelter (and my life is fanatically organized), I have to gear myself up for the discord of an overhaul. Here’s how:
I set aside a quiet time and space (with two children under ten, this is sometimes quite a feat) in order to imagine my story in a reader’s hands. Nothing figurative here. I actually picture her face, watch it as she turns the pages. I know this sounds sentimental, maybe even corny, but it’s my reality. This way, I can write to her. For her. And I can ask, What other details do you need here, friend? What scene would make you hurt as bad as the heroine? What would make you care that the cancer came back? What if I told you that she wanted it to? Shared a moment from her yesteryear with her mom and told you that she died giving birth? Then, after I get the needed affirmations or rejections, I shift and tweak and filter accordingly. Or, in some cases, throw in the towel.
If a story has been rejected or misinterpreted, or if the reactions are mixed and tepid, then I have not depicted the characters and conflicts as accurately as they unfolded in my mind’s eye. And that’s not fair to the characters, their journeys, or any future readers who could be impacted by either. I want my fiction to thrill, provoke, console, or divert—whatever the reader needs in any given moment—and if that’s not happening, then it’s my responsibility and honor to trudge through a second, third and fourth revamp to do the story justice. See, the nuances of the narration will come, but only after you can see who you are writing to. I believe there is a beautiful balance in all mankind’s chaos, and sometimes, I think you have to find it in invented, narrated places, which may need to be reworked time and again, for the sake of art.
Yes, I’ve been quite blessed with several gifted, skilled readers. I say, find a peer group and pour your heart and soul into their work because your goodwill is often reciprocated. But don’t be afraid to remove yourself from a writers group that isn’t working…I’ve left a couple of workshops due to an imbalance in efforts/fairness or an unhealthy competitive tone. It’s okay to be a bit selfish in this authorship racket.
KS: How do you know when you’re ready to send a piece out for publication?
CB: This is my biggest downfall, by far, and even though I’m aware of it, I can’t seem to find a resolution. I’ve never really had an “a-ha” moment where I simply knew my story was complete, where I felt completely prideful and said to myself, Chadly, this is ready to go (First, I wouldn’t really speak to myself in the third person; and second, I would never call myself something cutesy like, Chadly. That was all for effect). Unfortunately, I’ve been known to do everything wrong here. I get impatient, giddy as a toddler with an iPad, and simply hit the send button before I can think through all the consequences of doing so too early. It all stems back to those pesky revisions. See, I know that I will undoubtedly agonize over one word for several hours (that is not an embellishment) then wind up staying with the original damn choice anyway. Then I’ll do it again. And again. So, sometimes, I send out work that could be better if I would pause, let it marinate a bit. Yet I seem to have a sense of urgency in submitting, as well as an anxiety about doing the harder work—the excavation, the gutting, the renovation—that seems impossible to side-step. Perhaps it’s psychological? I’m so worried about the self-criticism that will set in the longer I keep a piece near that it’s easier to field a journal’s rejection than deal with my own. Isn’t that what solidifies an artist’s lot in life, though? Our afflictions are what prompt us to create, then channel, then share. Clearly, my hasty submission philosophy is impractical, and I will be mending and repairing the “why’s” of such a practice going forward. But it’s important for all writers to remember that our flaws and insecurities are what make our work unique, important and rich.
The question was about when to submit, and I strayed some in my response. As I attempted to adjust it, maybe delete several sentences, I changed my mind, figuring, why not let my digressions air some…it’s sort of the point I was trying to make…
Final words: For the sake of the story, be patient, embrace your imperfections, and don’t try to develop a bulletproof process as it can/should change per endeavor.
KS: Was there a moment, memory, or image that inspired any of the stories in the forsaken…?
CB: There is a piece that resonates with me just a bit more than the rest: “Uriah’s Last Rite.” There is a timidity in Uriah with which I identify. It’s not the primary incident of firing a rifle, or any specific situation Uriah encounters for that matter, but the broader implication of wanting to please others. Growing up, I felt completely inadequate most of the time, beyond the typical childhood insecurities. I was fearful about miniscule matters—thought my knees might buckle in gym class whenever it was my turn to bat, or shoot, or run—but had an inner-confidence and determination that others couldn’t see. This isn’t a “woe is me” as my uncertainties and indecisions were/are no different or greater than anyone else’s. Still, I felt called to write about this young boy who had such great hesitation but a fire in his belly, too. One that only he knew was burning.
As I said above, my hope for any story I write is to stir a reader, and in this case, comfort someone who is still carrying around childhood garbage that could be discarded. Maybe Uriah’s plight will let a reader know that all rites of passage, once endured, leave us stronger, wiser, and unparalleled in their wake. Here I go again, giving life advice rather than staying focused on the question…but to anyone reading this or “Uriah’s Last Rite,” I say, drop the burdens you’ve been holding onto, lighten your heart so you can funnel that energy into being the extraordinary contributor you were meant to be. I’m not out-of-touch or arrogant enough to believe that my work will have a profound impact to such a degree, but providing a semblance of reprieve, from whatever is plaguing a reader, why, that is my hope, my impetus for writing.
KS: How did you decide on the title “the forsaken…” for this collection? What is the significance to you of the all-lowercase title and the ellipses?
CB: The title came quite easily actually. Some of the pieces in the chapbook are from the creative thesis I wrote in my MFA program. That said, when my red-letter mentor asked me what threaded the stories together, I discovered the characters’ common sense of abandonment—either real or perceived—by a loved one, society, or his/her faith. I wish there was a more uplifting title, but that would be misleading. I never want to sugarcoat anything, and some folks are indeed forsaken, seeking absolution. That is real. And my title should be, too.
That said, there is hope in even the darkest places. Thus the rationale for the format of the title…
Ah yes, the lower case lettering and…the…ellipse… Well, here goes. It may not be effective, but my thought process was that all of these forsaken protagonists suffered, greatly. However, for all but Madeline, their journeys are far from over. There is hope and plenty of time remaining for triumph. I wanted to deemphasize the desertion at the onset—using lower case lettering upon first referencing it—while leaving room for faith and light, hence the “more to come” end-mark.
Now, what can I say about Madeline as she doesn’t fit these assertions. Well, every short story collection needs an outlier, it makes for contrast, confusion and good conversation…like, “What the hell was that crazy galoot of an author thinking? Must be a revision hater.”
KS: How did you decide which stories to include for this collection (or which stories not to include)?
CB: Oh boy, I wish I had a sexier response for this one. The truth is that I simply asked myself which stories in my repertoire held the most forsaken characters, if that makes sense. In my assessment, “Uriah’s last rite,” “a bicycle for Madeline” and “unfolded” won out. As for “the day the guinea pigs went missing,” I actually played “eenie, meenie, miney, mo” between that piece and another entitled “Shenandoah blue,” and, well, the rest is history. Give me a break here… I could have concocted a tall tale about a bar fight, an Excalibur era crossbow, and several jars of clover honey with expired shelf-lives, but as I shared earlier in this interview, I cannot tell a lie.