TM: Does the location of Oklahoma in “Balloon Animals” hold any significance to you?
LW: The location itself is an extension of my small town roots, in East Texas. There is a kind of palpable desolation in the podunk of my youth. While some folks feel an incredible warmth in these tiny places, I always experience a sort of vertigo, possibly born of my fear as a child that I might not be able to ever get out, or escape my fate. It’s strange though, because I also experience tremendous inspiration when I go back. It’s a conflict many writers experience, I believe. Charlie is haunted by the smallness of his life, trapped by his own unfulfilled expectations. I believe the setting mirrors that.
TM: Is there any of yourself in the main character Charlie?
LW: There is a lot of Charlie in me. As a writer, I have always struggled with the concept of currency. What does my passion offer this world, or my family? We as artists are all in a struggle to answer this question. Each time someone asks us how much we make, monetarily, with our art, we are faced with the reality that our answer will never measure up in today’s dollars. We have to find our currency in other ways, and surround ourselves with those that understand and support our passions regardless.
TM: Do these characters reflect people in your own life?
LW: Mira is very much a reflection of my two daughters as children. They had this ethereal nature that touched everyone around them. Natalie has a lot of my wife in her as well, with her strength, loyalty, and unwavering support.
TM: How does your history of being a marine veteran affect your writing?
LW: My Marine Corps experiences are ubiquitous in my writing and life in general. I wear them like a second skin. I think most veterans, regardless of service branch, undergo a similar metamorphosis of thought and being, unique to their individual experiences, of course. For me, the Marines made me aware of a certain type of hyper-humanity. I witnessed the human condition in overdrive. While it can be terrifying to see, first hand, what we are capable of as a species, it is also fascinating, and inspiring. And from a character development standpoint, my military service has been a boundless wellspring.
TM: When the Second Madonna is ruined and Charlie takes his anger out on the Tweety balloon, were the emotions conveyed there a result of something in your life?
LW: This comes back to the earlier concept of currency- this pressure to create something that will not just be accepted, but also pay the bills. That buildup of tension, and it’s violent release in the story, came from a very real place in my own life and the weight of the constant, personal rejection we all must face in order to do this thing we do: to write, to create, to bare ourselves. Charlie snaps, plain and simple, and it was incredibly gratifying on a primal level. I would be lying if I said I wrote it with all of that, or hell, any of it really, in mind, but I can’t deny it’s there when I see it retrospectively.
The story itself was born of Chekhov’s gun, the dramatic concept that if you have a gun in a story, it must go off before the end. For me, that meant creating a palpable anticipation, an unspoken momentum, that would carry the story forward. As soon as the balloon, with its fragility, is introduced, the reader knows, on some level, that it can’t survive the story. If it does, the reader will feel cheated. The rest of the story, the real connections the characters make, and the tendrils they have to my own experience, just somehow found their way in and flowed along. I was just lucky enough to have been there for it.
Despite “Balloon Animals” being a short story, there is a lush and detailed backstory to the characters. How did these backstories come about? And why were they chosen for this story?
This is the one area of the story that was more work than inspiration. Initially, Natalie’s story was not nearly as fleshed out. I’m lucky enough to be a part of a community of writers, the Peaxdunque Writers Alliance, and they pointed out the fact that Natalie’s character and backstory was so vital to Charlie’s motivations. This seems an obvious fact in retrospect. I think we all do this, especially in short stories. We focus on our main character to the detriment of all else. Without proper development and page space however, supporting characters can be nothing more than plot devices. In order for Natalie to truly understand the depth of Charlie’s loss, she has to have experienced her own. She lost her dreams long ago, and whatever chance she might have had for a second chance she sacrificed for her family. That kind of love and loyalty frame Charlie’s self-awareness and humility, in the end.
Tagen McCabe is a Senior at Buffalo State College for a Major in Writing. He has a part-time job at Committed Home Care taking care of family and plans to write fantasy, modern fantasy, and science fiction stories in the future. In his free time, or just when he is being particularly lazy, he spends time playing video games or browsing YouTube. On Saturday nights, he dedicates his time to Dungeons and Dragons with friends.
Larry Wormington is a Dallas-based fiction writer and the editor of the Peauxdunque Review. He received his MFA from University of New Orleans and his BA from University of North Texas. His stories have appeared in Elm Leaves Journal, Harpur Palate, the New Orleans fiction anthology, Monday Nights, among others. He also has work coming out this fall in Redivider. He’s a Marine veteran and a member of the Peauxdunque Writers Alliance. Professionally, he is a technical writer and a small business owner in the greater Dallas area. He and his Khaleesi have been married for 26 years and have four incredible children.