Wes Holtermann is a graduate of the College of Creative Studies at UC Santa Barbara. He lives in Berkeley, California. His story “Hurricane” was a runner-up for the 2013 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest and appears in the Winter 2014 issue of The Kenyon Review.
Can you identify the seed of inspiration of your story “Hurricane”? What was the hardest part about writing it?
A lot of the background stuff in the story comes from real life—all the weird plagues, the dead animals, the racist gorilla statue, the religious billboards. The hardest part about writing it was figuring out and then conveying why I felt the need to throw all these things into the same piece. I didn’t quite know where it was going when I started it, but I had a couple characters, and I sort of had them poke around for the heart of the story until it revealed itself. Eventually, it became about how unglued people can feel from the world as it changes and how hard it is to get loose from familiar but less-than-great situations and move toward better things.
With its invocation of President Obama and the culture wars, your story in KR, “Hurricane,” is set during a particular moment in American life. For other writers who are undertaking era-specific pieces like this, what advice do you have for ensuring that the writing will remain potent for readers in the future?
There’s no way to be sure that it will, but people are always going to be people, so a good story with distinctly human characters will stay relevant, no matter how tied it is to a specific time.
What have you learned about the writing process in the last five years?
That most of it is reading and listening. Voices and their stories don’t usually come completely from thin air, and I think being receptive is probably the most important part of the process. Your brain melts everything down, and whatever raw blob you drool out is what you have to chisel into a story.
Which non-writing-related aspect of your life most influences your writing?
Talking to people.
Of all the things you could be doing, why do you write?
To me, literature seems to be the best tool we have to cut into what makes us human. It shows you the variety of experiences people can have but also how consistent human nature is. I like the idea that reading is thinking with someone else’s brain. You could say the same thing about writing fiction. They’re both an exercise in empathy.