On Monday, we published Taylor Sykes’s “Creeper,” third place finalist in our 2021-2022 Winter Short Story Award for New Writers, selected by Ye Chun. Today, we’re pleased to present this interview with the writer herself, conducted by assistant editor Brandon Williams. First, read Sykes’s terrific “Creeper” here, then read on below to learn more about the origins of this story and the writer’s process.
I’m always interested in where stories come from. What inspired this piece, and how did it come about?
It started with Prudence’s voice. The first scene I had was the confrontation at the grocery store. Most everyone knows a survivor of sexual assault. It’s the lived experience of so many people and there’s nothing they can do about it, and those close to the survivors can be just as helpless. I wanted to tell a story of somebody in that situation, closely but not directly affected. Prudence embodied the frustration and desire to speak out on behalf of another who has gone through this trauma.
Setting and place are ever-present in this piece, from small things like the rapist’s Facebook page being adorned with the Blackhawks to all the local landmarks and named businesses. Would you talk a bit about the place of this story, why the story is set here, and what that world means to the piece itself?
The setting is actually a fictionalized version of my hometown in northwest Indiana. In “Creeper,” there’s a tension between one character who left and the main character, Prudence, who stayed, and the town becomes that much smaller for her. In such a confined space, she struggles to escape her past or the past of her friends and family.
The story is written in first-person present, perhaps not the most unique Point of View but definitely a somewhat rare decision. How did you make that decision, and what was your intention with it?
I thought the first-person present was the best way to capture Prudence’s snowballing desperation. Her voice came to me with such urgency, and I wanted to stay true to that feeling.
I absolutely love Rebecca’s role in this piece, the way she has decided to deal with the world in one very specific way that is not the way the narrator has chosen and how that spirals for Prudence. There’s an incredible arc to Pru’s view of their relationship (from staying close because neither had sisters all the way to recognizing how little respect she’s capable of giving Rebecca’s decisions), and of course it’s what happened to her that is the fulcrum of this story—even though Rebecca as an active character shows up in the story very little. She feels absolutely key to understanding so much of what this story is trying to do. I don’t really have a question here, but I’d love to hear just a bit more about Rebecca and Prudence and how they do or don’t function together in this piece…there’s so much I could say here in armchair analysis that I should probably just shut up and listen.
While both characters have gone through life-altering experiences, the timing of these events means everything for their relationship. Rebecca has healed, at least as best as she can in order to move forward with her life, but Prudence still grieves. This ultimately sends two people who love each other on opposing life-trajectories. Prudence’s definition of a resolution is different than Rebecca’s, an impasse that drives a wedge between them.
I’m that annoying guy at the reading that always wants to ask the two super-cliché questions, so apologies in advance. First, can you tell us a bit about your writing routine? (mornings with coffee pecking at the keys; ten hours in front of a keyboard every day; chunks when inspiration strikes, et cetera?)
I’m a morning writer, with coffee and a good playlist to put me in the right frame of mind. Though I wish I was able to write every day, I usually store up my ideas until I do have the time to get them all out. When I’m working on a project, I try to maintain my momentum through to the draft’s end. I also like to take time between drafts in order to look again with fresh eyes.
Second, beyond routine, what about your writing process? Are you a seventeen drafts before your first reader sees it kind of writer, or does it all flow brilliantly to fountain pen on first thought (someone someday will reply yes to that, I’m sure), or do you write a single sentence a million times until it’s perfect, or…?
I’m pretty private with my work and tend not to talk about it when in the early stages. By the time I am ready to show it to someone, I’ve already worked through several drafts. Endings are my favorite—I need to know the ending before I get started. I also frequently read my work out loud. The particular flow of each story is very important to me. When I feel like I can comb through the story without any tangles, then I know it’s complete.
interviewed by Brandon Williams