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A Conversation With PEN America Best Debut Short Stories 2018 Author Ernie Wang
“I feel any person who has to deal with losing the one person who is their world has every right to do whatever it takes to self-preserve, even when that includes deflection and denial.”
The Threepenny Review Passages North
There’s a tug on my skirt. I look down. “Hi there, young fella,” I say. “Hercules,” he says. I nod.
“I have a question,” he says. “Go on then, young man.” “Hercules,” he says. “How do I become strong like you?” I look at his parents. They beam at their son and smile like they already know. We’re at the corner of Frontierland and Fantasyland. From a distance, I hear screams at the top of Splash Mountain and calliope music from the riverboat making its way downstream. The smells of butter popcorn and churros wafting through the muggy afternoon air remind me that I’m hungry and I’ll be on my break soon.
In the far corner, I see Buzz and Woody ham it up for a large Chinese tour group. Cameras click, and the tourists point and shout furiously at them. Buzz and Woody take it in stride and swivel randomly and wave enthusiastically and do this jiggy kind of dance. Today, Zac is Buzz. He’s a good dude. He sees me, and without turning from the tourists, he lowers his arm and flips me the middle finger.
I kneel down and clasp the kid’s hands. He stands straight and puffs out his chest. I no longer have to think back to the script. I got this shit on lock.
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“Every interaction between adult siblings presents a chance to get more clarity about the past. Hopefully, we’re able to seize at least some of these chances.”
“I wrote much of the story listening to jazz, including the title song, for inspiration on how to shift without imposing too much of a structure.”
“I wanted to portray the pain of trying to reach someone who is inside their own, unreachable pain, and how this often puts untenable pressure on relationships.”
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“I started thinking about immoral women, women who are not merely complicit counterparts to A Bad Man but active participants in cruelty.”
“The idea here is the casual way children can accept and parrot this kind of simple, black-and-white math about worth. So much so that in a pinch they are willing write off their own mother!”
“For me, I guess fairytales are where I am simultaneously most at home, and most at odds with the world around me.”