From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

A Sucker for the Episodic: Berrien Henderson

Berrien C. Henderson lives with his family in southeast Georgia. He was born in a small town and currently lives in a farming community; deer and turkey have been known to wander through his yard. A small cadre of common house geckos earn their keep by eating the bugs on the carport and front porch. Both Berry and his wife teach: high school English and sixth grade English, respectively. He has a son and daughter, and they answer to Thing 1 and Thing 2. Ever elusive free time he spends with family, and late in the evening or late at night, writing speculative fiction and poetry. His writing can be found in Kaleidotrope, The Shantytown Anomaly, The Journal of Asian Martial Arts, Clockwise Cat, and Behind the Wainscot. Forthcoming auctorial ventures include work in the Hatter Bones anthology (ENE Publishing), Drollerie Press, Star*Line, and Clarkesworld Magazine. He has been nominated twice for a SFPA Dwarf Stars Award. Berrien Henderson’s featured story, “The Girl in the Green Sequined Dress,” appears this week at Fantasy Magazine.

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“The Girl in the Green Sequined Dress” conjures feelings of loss, hope, unrequited desire behind plexiglas. How did you come to write this story of a doll and her man? 

Summer before last, my wife had to have some minor surgery.  While she was recovering and dozing, I eased out to the Huddle House on the corner for some breakfast in the afternoon.  Nearby stood, yep, a claw machine stuffed with toys and whatnottery.  The thought of one of them wanting to escape and motioning for help struck me, and I took the stereotypical next step: I began the story on the back of an old receipt I found in my pocket.  From there I had to put Mack Day in the position of being totally alone and bereft in order to keep the narrative lens on him and inject enough surreality through him.  The poor guy’s messed up but dealing with the loss as best he can, and in such cases transference is an easy–or natural–next step for a victim of any kind of trauma.

Your stories often take on an experimental structure that adds pacing and interest to the prose. Do you prefer experimental to mainstream prose styles? 

I have to default to one of Elmore Leonard’s ten rules for writing: “Try to leave out the part the readers tend to skip.”  If I revise and it bores me, then it better leave the draft.  That darling’s going to have to be killed.  Now, Leonard’s advice in and of itself had nothing to do with the experimental or the mainstream, but his advice helps me stay focused on keeping things pared down as far as I think I can manage.  I think that if an episodic narrative could be deemed experimental, then I’m a sucker for the episodic, even in miniature with the short story form.  Many of my short stories, too, aren’t roughed out from an outline other than the barest of notes, and I approach the storytelling intuitively.  If that makes it seem experimental, hey, that’s great.  I just prefer the mode that works for the given story at the time, really. 

Tell us, you sleep with a dragon at home, don’t you? 

That’s only when Lovely Wife wakes up in a grump-tail mood. 

The following quote stopped me when I was reading, and I could not help but imagine myself in Mack Day’s position standing outside this door.

He does not recall how long he had stood in front of the door with the crystal knob like a jewel. All the interior doorknobs have been replaced—years now—with generic brass knobs, but not this one, which is “the biggest diamond full of rainbows.” Such a big metaphor for a little girl, Mack had thought at the time.

And suddenly, the protagonist’s mannerisms and interests in the sequined doll take on layers of meaning already planted, hitting the reader on multiple levels and “realities,” something practiced by Cheever, Gogol, Woolf, and so many other magical realists through the ages. With whom do you most closely associate yourself? Do you have a favorite magical realist muse or writer in general?

Rae, you ask a tough (and flattering) question.  I’d associate (or default) to Marquez.  Loves me some Marquez.  And one of my favorite short stories is Gogol’s “Diary of a Madman.”  Other than them the muse would be muses.  Right now I’m in a Cormac McCarthy mood.  Just rounded out the Border Trilogy and am reading The Orchard Keeper and have Suttree waiting after that.  Huge fan of The Road, No Country for Old Men, and Blood Meridian. For guilty pleasure reading, I’m a Louis L’Amour man.  And got to have some Hemingway. 

What’s in the works for Berrien Henderson this year?

Keeping the butt in the chair and keeping the short story inventory rolling while wrapping up a novel.  Not writing and not contributing to the community isn’t an option for me at this point.  It’s too much fun, too gratifying, and I’ve learned so much from the writer friends I’ve met over the past couple of years. 

With Farrago’s Wainscot shutting its doors this fall, what plans do you have in terms of editing?

Ah, that’s a bittersweet question . . . being a part of Farrago’s Wainscot has been at once eye-opening and just plain ol’ fun.  I’ve felt honored to have been a part of the whole lit/weird mode FW offers and am looking forward — and hope others are as well — to what the current editorial line-up will be contributing via Farrago’s F.M.I. Blog.  In many ways, it’ll be a natural evolution from what the audience got out of Farrago’s Wainscot and Behind the Wainscot.  And then some.

Rae BryantRae Bryant is a 2008 recipient of the Whidbey Writers’ Prize and editor-nominated for StorySouth’s Million Writers Award. Her works have appeared or will soon be appearing in Weird Tales, Fantasy Magazine, Farrago’s Wainscot, Whidbey Writers MFA Zine, Literary Traveler and Southern Fried Weirdness, among others. With a Bachelors in Humanities/English and Literature, Rae is currently finishing an M.A. in writing at Johns Hopkins. She lives in a little valley just outside Washington D.C. Read more about Rae at RaeBryant.com.

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