Deborah Batterman is very patient. She was our very first backstory submission—and we are just publishing it now, several months later (mea maxima culpa). In this collection of short stories, she explores contrasts between images and symbols. In her own words, the Backstory to SHOES HAIR NAILS…
I was at work on a novel, and I’d published several short stories, when the idea began to simmer: do I have enough stories for a collection, and is there a unifying thread to them? I did not envision a collection of connected stories, but, as I began looking at which ones I thought I’d include and which ones I’d leave out, a pattern began to emerge: the stories I felt were the strongest were framed around symbols in our everyday world, in an attempt to get past the surface association. The title stories, for example, might, at first glance, conjure images of frivolousness and vanity. And, yet, by putting them center stage, at the heart of the collection, I’m asking readers to leave aside presumptions, step into narratives built around those very images, see them in a different light—one that goes deeper to reveal the underlying metaphors.
The narrator in “Hair,” for example, comes of age in a tale braided between ‘two mothers’, the one who abandoned her and the one (a hairdresser) who took care of her. In “Vegas,” you have a character who thinks he can rattle his father out of an encroaching dementia by taking him to the place he loved visiting most, a fabricated city that it is much about possibility as it is a kind of last-chance saloon. What I think makes the story resonate—and lifts ‘Vegas’ as a symbol from cliché to metaphor—is the irony that comes into play, especially in an environment not known for subtlety. Stories for me often begin with images, sometimes in the form of a line that pops into my head—”The last time I saw my mother I was propped on a phone book in a red leather chair at Jeanie’s Hair Salon.” Another story, “Twin Tales,” opens with a phrase—How could this be happening?—an allusion, it soon becomes clear, to the events of 9/11. Here you have an ordinary woman doing a very ordinary thing (walking her dog) on a day that would prove to be anything but ordinary.
Collectively, the stories seem to ask these questions: How do everyday events — the backdrop to so much that shapes our lives—drive our narratives? How is the subtle power of narrative shaped by the interplay between the mundane and the unexpected? What compels individuals to act the way they do? Growing up in a solid middle class Brooklyn neighborhood, I was so often struck by the daily ‘dramas’ of my immediate world: a neighbor’s husband takes off one day, never to return; an aunt walks out on three young children; a classmate who is emotionally/intellectually challenged (we did use the word ‘retarded’ without apology) is ridiculed. Scenarios that leave their imprint become the core of fiction. So when I’m asked about the autobiographical elements in my own stories, “Shoes,” in particular, the answer just rolls off my tongue: yes, the genesis of the story was my mother’s death and the months of cancer preceding it; and, yes, my parents’ relationship saddened me. The rest, as the saying goes, is fiction.
As a final thought, the cover would have to be a much a part of the backstory as the stories themselves: shoes as symbol are as much metaphor (from Cinderella to Christian Louboutin) as they are utilitarian, and a shoe on the cover would seem to cancel out arbitrary distinctions between ‘literary’ women’s fiction and ‘chick’ lit. At least that’s my hope.
Purchase SHOES HAIR NAILS (print or digital): Amazon