Casey Gentry Quinn’s “Where They Come From” was chosen by Morgan Talty as the 2nd place finalist in our 2022-2023 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers. If you haven’t read this magical story yet, what are you waiting for? Once you’ve finished, come back here and read our interview with the winner!
First, I have to ask the obvious: Where did the idea for this story come from?
The spark was the image of couples fornicating in suburban backyards during a full moon. Figuring out the why led to the story. At first, the story was about androgynous couples whose genitalia are only revealed in the moonlight like the Lonely Mountain keyhole in The Hobbit. Upon revision, I focused less on sex and more about the performance of sex and the rigmaroles that surround conception. Moon cycles have long been tied to menstrual cycles and ovulation. And as a literary device, the transitory nature of a full moon provides a high-pressure window of time.
I love where this story starts because it takes us immediately and intimately to these characters. I’m curious if this was always the opening, or if the story originally began elsewhere.
The story always started in that moment, but the lens was much wider on earlier versions, making it more of a community story. When I figured out what I wanted to write about—infertility and performative behaviors—I shrunk the cast and focused on one couple. This felt like the best approach to capture the effects infertility can have on a relationship.
Can you talk a little bit about the ending? I think the pivot from sex to violence works really well, especially in this context. I’m curious if the story always felt like it was headed in this direction or if it surprised you.
The character issuing the final blow to the stork was a bit of a surprise to me. But then I realized the person doing everything right, following every rule and striving, can be the same person who, after endless defeats, would cross any boundary and break any rule to get what the person desires. Unexplained failure may be the worst sort to endure. The ending is one desperate character’s moral and ethical compass cracking, but also, in a way, continuing to be the same person they’ve always been.
I’d love to know more about the choices you made about what to tell the reader and what to leave to the imagination. For instance, we don’t know much about what this couple looks like or much about the town in which they live, but I can practically feel the robes they put on and smell the anchovy paste. And the stork itself is described in a lot of detail.
I suppose the level of detail has a lot to do with how I doled out real estate and dealt with time. The ending scene comprises almost half the story, more so if you include the day’s events before they step into their backyard. It has a more “present” sense to it. Meanwhile the beginning and middle are in condensed time so that the story can cover a great swath of time without me having to write about every moon cycle. The most significant technical challenge of the story was having long-term frustration and tension in the couple develop organically in the abbreviated form of a short story.
What’s your writing process like? Do you write daily or just as time permits? Morning or evening?
I try to write Monday through Friday, usually in the early morning.
And finally, what else are you working on?
I’m finishing a novel that grew out of a short story Boy Girl I published in Narrative Magazine. Told by an emotionally stunted antihero, the dark comedy focuses on relationships, millennial ennui and sex.
Interviewed by Jen Dupree