One of my favorite things about short stories is the way they can pack so many levels into a short space that you find yourself thinking and thinking and thinking about the characters and the choices they make long after you finish reading. Michele Tracy Berger’s “Family Line” is one of those stories.
Q (Crone Girls Press): What inspired your story in this anthology? Tell us the “story behind the story.”
A (Michele Tracy Berger): I read a short story by Kevin Canty set in the 2nd person POV. It’s a brilliant story and it haunted me. I know some people hate 2nd person POV and it is often handled poorly. However, I love the immediacy it gives to the reader, forcing them to identify with a character or situation. So, when I got the idea for this story, I knew I wanted to play with POV. Unlike many other African American kids that grew up in a city, I didn’t spend summers traveling to the South and living with relatives. My dad’s family is southern, but I was estranged from them. So, I grew up always envying the deep connection and experiences many of my peers had with their southern relatives. In this story, I want to play up the stereotypes that young people from the same family but with different background might have of each other. I wanted to explore ideas of family and heritage in the piece and also of course, the nature of freedom. I also had never written a monster story before either, so that was fun!
Q: Why horror? Why do you write it? What about the genre appeals to you as an author?
A: As a kid, I was really into sci-fi and fantasy and read a lot in the field. Also as a young person, I watched a lot of horror though didn’t read much of classic horror. My mother was a serious horror fan (movies and TV) and I think my younger sister can quote most of Steven King’s work. Typical of my generation, I watched and read material that was definitely age inappropriate. I credit my early horror interests in giving me an alternate way of looking at the world, one that is grittier and less idealistic.
I’ve only become aware recently that much of my work could be classified as psychological horror or “dark fiction”. I am fascinated by how coping with ‘otherness’ shapes the worldview of many of my characters. Horror tropes provide a powerful way for me to dig into the complexities and contradictions of race and gender.
Q: What do you find the most challenging about the writing process, and how do you meet that challenge?
A: Short stories don’t come easy for me. My tendency is to write long. For years, I didn’t think I could write anything under 10,000 words. In the last several years, however, I have studied the craft of short fiction. One of my writing teachers said that writing a short story is like a hosting an exquisite dinner party. It has a well-planned beginning, middle and end. From that I realized that my short stories weren’t working because instead of getting the characters out the door, they were sleeping over and having breakfast the next day! The structure didn’t fit the format. Precision is everything when crafting a short story. How many lines will you provide a character, in introducing them and giving them lines to speak? Do you need three minor characters? How many subplots can the story hold? Longer form work allows you to entertain many more possibilities. When I started selling stories under 1,000 words, I knew I finally understood the nut and bolts of the short story form well enough to write a credible story.
Q: What’s next in your writing journey?
A: I’m wrapping up a horror novel that is set in the Great Dismal Swamp.
Michele Tracy Berger
Michele Tracy Berger is a professor, a creative writer, a creativity coach and a pug-lover.
Her short fiction, poetry and creative nonfiction has appeared, or is forthcoming in 100wordstory, Glint, Thing, FIYAH: Magazine of Black Speculative Fiction, Flying South, Oracle: Fine Arts Review, Carolina Woman, Trivia: Voices of Feminism, Ms., The Feminist Wire, Western North Carolina Woman, various zines and anthologies.
Her science fiction novella, “Reenu You” was recently published by Falstaff Books. Much of her work explores psychological horror, especially through issues of race and gender.
To read “Family Line” by Michele Tracy Berger, pick up a copy of Stories We Tell After Midnight 2. And, once you are finished, please think about leaving us a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Reviews make our cold, dark little heart so happy…