In the darkest cardboard box on skid-row emerges the semicolon shooter Lynne Beckenstein. Join her as she tells how her sobriety led to the royal we (read her story in the Jan. Issue).
1) What is your nautical history? Where does your life intersect with the water?
I’m a terrible sailor – always seasick. But I have spent a lot of time with family from Staten Island, Brighton Beach, and the Jersey Shore. My mother worked for John A. Noble, the maritime artist, so I grew up in a house hung with etchings of ship graveyards like the one in “Scavengers in the Boneyards.”
2) Reading your story made me feel like I was sitting against a live oak, drinking water on a hot day after working in a soy field. Why do I feel this way?
Hard for me to say, but that is evocative! I like the image of stories as thirst-quenching.
3) Telling the story from the perspective of the ships reminded me of Rimbaud’s The Drunken Boat and Silverstein’s The Good Tree. Were you thinking of either of those? What sparked this story?
Those are interesting texts to pair with “Scavengers,” although I didn’t have either in mind when I wrote it. I had recently read Julie Otsuka’s mesmerizing book, The Buddha in the Attic, which is about a community of Japanese picture brides who emigrated to America in the early 20th century. It is narrated entirely in the first-person plural, which inspired me to try telling a story from the perspective of that collective “we.”
4) What’s a bad writing habit that you’ve been able to break?
My semicolon addiction.
5) The love triangle between the people who took parts of the ships, and the sailors who gave life to the ships, and the ships themselves ultimately ends up in the graveyard and the museum. Is this a dystopian view or a belief in the natural purging/rebirthing of nature or something else?
Natural decay and rebirth were definitely on my mind, and led me to other questions. Can history be a kind of erosion, like water on wood? What does it mean to engage in creative endeavors – to be an artist, or craftsman, or to reinvent yourself – in the presence of these corrosive forces?
6) Whom were you reading when you wrote this story?
This story took several months to write, so too many to list! Last fall, I remember being stunned by Marie-Helene Bertino’s Safe as Houses, Junot Diaz’s This Is How You Lose Her, and Lauren Groff’s Arcadia. Those books are very different from each other, but I read them all the same way: as slowly as possible, so I could savor every word.