16th Dec 2022
‘Without a Villian There Is No Hero’ is a shortlisted story in our bi-annual short story competition. Read all the stories and vote for your favourite here.
Tell us a little bit about your background.
I was born into a large family in a small South Texas town. My extended family is varied in ages and expertise, ranging from bronco buster to jet pilot to circuit judge. And I got to hear all their stories and adventures. My grandmother on my father’s side lived to be 116 years old and sat me on her knee until I was two. She was alive when Abraham Lincoln was president. Time flows much more fluidly in my family’s stories than most. Someday I want to write the incredible stories that my family went through.
My town was not a very exciting place for a kid but it did have a public library. That was where I spent most of my formative years, reading everything I could get my hands on. I began to understand the importance of books and writing stories then.
I began taking writing more seriously in the last three years. I joined an online writing site called Deadlines for Writers based in South Africa. Through the wonderful examples and daily prompts set up by Mia Joubert I began honing the craft of writing. That’s where I met Jane Bradshaw and dozens of other beginning writers. I then joined a group called Writer’s Island run by Samantha Palmer that featured writing prompts and contests. I eventually won five times against other fantastic writers garnering the coveted 5-time winner plaque.
Where did the idea for this story come from?
My family is on the older scale. As I grew up, their histories and stories made a big impression on me. A story my mother told about her older brother and his wife is very similar to my story. I changed the location so I could maintain an emotional distance from it. It was hard putting it down in story form.
What they went through was both heartbreaking and inspiring. I wanted to share some of that in this story.
How did you find writing about the theme of Summer? Is it something that you’ve done before?
I suppose all good writers have this internal drive to tease their readers when it comes to themes. As Jane and Kristopher mentioned, obliquely hinting at Summer through choice descriptions or circumstances was almost irresistible. I couldn’t help it either.
Seasons have been a staple in most of my writings so you will always find a mention or two in most of my stories.
We provided quite a small word count for this competition. Did you feel constrained by the word count or did you enjoy the challenge?
No, not constrained at all. Like Jane, I cut my teeth with varying daily word count prompts with Deadlines for Writers. The challenges there were thrilling and invigorating, especially getting to read and critique dozens of other stories from incredible writers. While I do prefer longer word counts, I find flash fiction writers incredible. To be able to fit an entire story into something like twelve words (and sometimes fewer) is amazing to me. That’s where you learn to find and keep the most important words in a story.
At its heart, this is a love story. Most love stories typically involve finding love as a young person. But this story focuses on love at a later stage of life. Was it intentional to flip the genre on its head in this way?
Is it flipped, Michael? I disagree. I’ve never known love to be only for the young. I usually see the youth treat love and lovers like a fad. Here one day, gone the next. The more stable love stories I know of come from more mature sources. People who have stayed together 50, 60, 75 years in marriage. I think that’s how the genre should be looked at.
The devotion Henry Blanthom has toward his wife, Lavinia, is beyond what I’ve ever read in most love stories. It shows a great example of what true love can be.
This story tackles the sad theme of dementia but still manages to sustain a sense of warmth and happiness. Did you feel it was important to balance themes of beauty and sadness?
Dementia can tear at one’s soul. Watching a person you’ve known for years slip behind a wall that neither you nor the individual can break past is devastating. My father watched his mother slip away like that. He never saw her return to her former self. He said it was the hardest thing he ever had to endure. Having a lifetime of love, memories and experiences denied to you. Being called a liar and a stranger. Rejected by your own mother.
But my uncle’s experience was different. He tried everything he could to pull my aunt into a bubble of time where she was herself—where my uncle meant something to her. Humor always helped. My uncle was a very funny man, always quick with a joke or funny tale from his youth. Like in the story, there were times when it just didn’t work. One wrong move and the swift currents of dementia would pull her away again, lost in her own mind. He said he could tell she was searching to find her way back and never gave up on helping her do that.
The rabbits in the story were an entire fabrication on my part. A snippet of another story my uncle told me. It just fit his demeanor for the story.
Why did you choose to explore the tragedy of dementia?
I see so many people slip away behind that veil and their families just put them away in a nursing home or some other psychiatric facility. Not many will even try to deal with their illness. It takes a strong mind and heart to suffer the emotional cuts and bruises from a loved one with dementia.
I hope that my story will be read by someone dealing with the same situation, who needs that hope to keep trying. Not to give up.
There is a lot of retrospection in this story. How did you get into the headspace of these older characters and explore their backstories?
Like I mentioned, my family is on the older scale. Having reached my middle years, just turning into my 60s, I look at my brothers and sisters, their life experiences that I saw them go through, and think, that happened only a few years ago. Now I know it may have been half a century past, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
To me, getting into the headspace of older characters is easy. Getting into the headspace of younger characters I find to be more difficult. It’s not impossible, but I struggle to fill in their backstories because I know they’ve barely covered any time in their lives. I tend to dwell more on accumulated angst and stresses for the youth than experiences. Maybe I’m just too old. 😀
The title makes us expect something quite different. Was that deliberate?
Absolutely it was. I mean, look at Jane and Kristopher’s story titles, Blood Red, A Summers Night. How many noir detective stories deal with werewolves? What sweet story of a Summer night did we read in Jane’s story? Granted, my title was a bit longer, but the reader might have guessed there would be a villain and a hero somewhere in the story, and then the actual meaning hits them as they read. Priceless.
Finally, what are your future plans? Are there any projects that people should know about?
The future is very fickle for me. My wife and I opened a boutique last year called the Victorian Showcase and Steampunk Emporium. That takes most of my time. I find a few moments here and there to write and respond to FB posts. We are also caregivers to my wife’s father who is wheelchair bound. Now he’s a character I could write about!
As for writing projects, I’ve shown some of my closest friends my Doc files of poems, short stories, novellas, and story synopsis. I think I have over five hundred files (and counting) and I hope to get them all in publishable form in the near future. There are also a few collaborated story ideas that I haven’t fleshed out yet. That will happen eventually.
I have worked closely with an editor to get two stories (The Holiday Chronicles and Vanquisher of Evil) out of the ruts where they are stuck. That’s a slow process.
In the meanwhile, I can see myself posting a lot of my shorter short stories on my author page on my FB page, Author I. Rodriguez.
My dream is to publish all of my larger works: My Maid Frida, Supes, The Polly Prindle Mysteries, Zavala Lufkin-Steampunk Bounty Hunter, Vanquisher of Evil, and The Holiday Chronicles, among others. I also have a fable story that I’m working on for younger readers. As you can see, I love all kinds of genres.
Thank you, Michael and Joe, for hosting this competition. Your work is incredibly valuable to new writers and authors. It is such an honor to be chosen as a finalist. I hope people who read my story find it as moving as I did.
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