A young man that just wants his father’s approval, a woman who just wants the best for her misunderstood daughter, a young girl forced to see the harsh side of humans–Chad V. Broughman’s short story collection slighted. brings together twelve stories with suspenseful yet twisted realities. He explores mental illnesses, loss of childhood innocence, and the complex reality of humans.
These stories show what it means to be misunderstood and forced to make decisions that show the reality of human nature. There is a feeling of relatability that runs through many of the stories and makes readers think back to some of the decisions they might have made. Broughman skillfully brings in characters that readers can relate to and draws them back to the reality of a human’s decision-making process. He understands and works with the complexities of the human psyche which leads readers to face realities they otherwise would not realize.
“I try not to feel anything, no sadness, no anger, no love; yet I feel all three, welled up and perched in my throat,” Broughman writes in the story “unfolded.” This is the reality that many people have to face when they see someone they are not particularly close to close to death. Broughman uses this to get people to think about how they would feel in these particular situations. It gets the readers to wonder and feel the need to carry on reading.
Interview with the Author
Etchings Press: Do you find yourself basing characters off of people you know or yourself?
Chad V. Broughman: Certainly, there’s minutia from every author’s life that spills into his/her main players. That said, for me, a character is never an exact replication of someone in my life but rather an amalgamation of “parts” rising up, assembling in a new way. Kind of like choosing several mosaic pieces from different jigsaw puzzles then interlocking them to form a unique, unexpected creation. What’s more, is that sometimes the origin of characters’ traits is not clear to me until after the story is written. For instance, it might not be until I read a close-to-final-draft that I recognize specific attributes–“Oh, she has my wife’s eyes” or “There’s a glimpse of my devilish high school Algebra teacher” (Damn those variables and coefficients. Damn you, I say!). Bottom line, I never set out to mirror people directly, but history, experience, and social interaction inevitably surface in all things written, fiction or not.
EP: What does your planning process look like?
CVB: I wanted to make sure that I spoke to this question as it seems to be the most common one asked, especially by folks who are just beginning to explore the world of writing. I used to constantly berate myself because it seemed as if every author I knew had developed some foolproof, step-by-step approach that would prompt perfect, publishable prose time and again. Simply apply this formulaic wonderment and poof, an award-winning piece floats down from Heaven. I had to come to terms with the fact that my method lacks swank–no enchanting forces; no “it just flowed like wine” moments. Rather, I’m about sticky-notes, random sentences on napkins, and fifteen pages of scrawl that, by the end, warrant no more than a couple of usable paragraphs. My process is that I have no process. I jot down thoughts without context because, in that instant, they sound “cool,” then I finish the work-day, drive my sons to soccer practice, take out the garbage, and return to said “cool” sentences only to think, “What the hell is this? Who broke into my room and typed this excrement on my screen?” So, to answer the question plainly, my “planning process” looks like Freddy Kreuger dropped into my nightmare to shake hands, wearing that threadbare, red-and-green sweater and poised to slash with those trademark fingers made of blades… but I’m okay with those kinds of scars.
EP: What advice would you give to new writers?
CVB: Honestly, I was trying to think of something pithy and droll here. But given the current tenor in the world of writing, I’m not sure quips are the way to go. I’m saddened to constantly hear of more talented artists who are “throwing in the towel” because they feel their voices/work will never be heard. The dream of publishing feels more daunting than ever with increasingly restrictive tastes. It seems many potential authors believe they are cornered, trapped within the confines of certain dominating themes of the day. And there is the assumption that if they dare to venture beyond the bounds, their work will be disregarded, declared irrelevant. That said, my plea to all writers, old salt or greenhorn, is to keep writing from the heart, put down on paper what unfolds in your mind’s eye, what bears down on your soul––sans societal influence and command. Freedom of expression is crucial for capturing accurate snapshots of time and purely depicting our wants, needs, loves, and failures. Our way of life must be preserved, letting future generations ponder, sustain, enhance, and strive to heal humankind. So, authors, never surrender your imagination to appease. You owe it to yourself and all of tomorrow to create deliberately, without restraint. Otherwise, we’ll have descendants that only know prescribed parts of a much bigger, wider, more beautiful tale.
EP: Do you think there are any topics that writers should not write about?
CVB: In a word–no. I understand that the slope of acceptability and unacceptability is becoming steeper, more slippery. And absolutely, mindfulness and sensitivity are the only avenues to harmony. However, limiting artists by declaring certain topics taboo feels counterintuitive–and potentially dangerous and divisive–to all creative pursuits. That is not to say that an author should not warn readers of potentially triggering material but to maneuver avoidance or restrict who can and cannot address particular issues, events, or worldly ills narrows the perspectives which, in turn, steers artists away from compromise and silences potentially valuable discussions. Resolutions will never be explored nor fragments made whole again if we are all operating in quietude, constantly looking over our shoulders. Only through openness, awareness and equal elbow-room for all do the ideas of peace and understanding move from the periphery and into clearer focus.
EP: How do you express perspective without the preconceived notion that you will offend someone?
CVB: Once upon a time, I was attending a writers workshop where I presented a piece into which I had poured out my blood, sweat, tears––probably some other unidentifiable matter, too––and was proud to share it. To my dismay, I was aggressively reprimanded by several attending authors for having not incorporated other cultures into the piece. Then, at another workshop not too long after, I was publicly challenged for writing “outside my culture” for a different story I had written. It was a “lose-lose” circumstance. And there have been many others since then, on varying grounds. So, I’ve simply come to terms with the reality that surely someone will be vexed by what I write, by what any author writes. The alternative, though, is to disappear, for artists to not recreate the images in their heads or the inspirations in their marrow for fear of offending. Then, so many good intentions and new landscapes may never be brought to fruition.
In my heart of hearts, I know that the reasons I write are upright: to enact positive change and empathy; to comfort (or discomfort if there’s a souped-up destination on the other side); to spark contemplation, solace, and affection. And if a reader chooses to see otherwise, well, it is really none of my business.
Final thought: I have such faith that though our world is on fire now, the embers will soon cool. And maybe writers will pave a path to unity, one people, all heading in the same direction…
EP: What was something surprising you learned while writing your piece?
CVB: I was floored to discover an organic theme woven through all the pieces in this chapbook. I didn’t write with the forethought of eventually being able to link the works together. I wrote each story as it came to me. Yet, when I decided there was enough material to hatch a collection, I was cheerfully surprised at the common thread of abandonment that reared its shameless head per work. Though the author part of me was thrilled, the non-author part began to question my mental balance for crafting so many crestfallen folks.
EP: What process do you go through in order to choose an ending to your stories? Do you know it before you write or later on?
CVB: Ooh, what a tantalizing question. I wish my answer were more rousing, but all I can offer is my somewhat lifeless, easy-out response. Truth be told, I have written pieces around an ending that punched me right in the spleen. As well, I have started writing with no direction whatsoever and after rambling for weeks, put the story down, only to be later jolted by an obvious ending in the most unexpected, aimless place. I’ve found endings while in an outhouse in the middle of the forest, in the middle of lectures (which I was giving), and during a wedding ceremony while playing the role of best man. Again, more looseness on my part here, and no miraculous blueprint, only impulse, desperate beseeching from a higher power, and an open mind for seeking possibilities in every space, every juncture.