Adam Padgett’s fiction has recently appeared in Appalachian Heritage, Santa Clara Review, The Conium Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, and elsewhere. He currently teaches writing at The University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
His fiction, "Out From Under" was published in the 2013 edition of the Roanoke Review. Stephanie Spector speaks with Adam below.
How did you decide to title this Out From Under? What comes first when you write: an idea for a title, or the story?
The story always comes first. I actually struggle with the titles, and this was especially true for “Out from Under”. Titles should serve as a kind of a brief sales pitch. Sometimes, I’ll scan the story for potential candidates. The phrase “out from under” appears a couple of times and so I ultimately decided on it. It seemed fitting enough, as the protagonist feels constantly the weight of his circumstance pressing down on him, urging him to run and escape. Although, I think a better title still exists out there. I’ve written better titles.
What about Out From Under do you like best?
The ending is probably the key part of the story. The father character is a composite of a number of people I have known either closely or loosely; constructing him was an enjoyable part of the writing process. But the ending would easily mark the best part of the story, being simultaneously wonderful and devastating, an ending that fit organically while still unexpected.
Your sentences read so smoothly and rhythmically. I think back to this sentence: To a church buried deep in the mountains amongst a thick forest of spruce-firs and rhododendrons, through paths of dirt bespeckled with granite lumps that grew from the ground like oversized tumors. To find forgiveness. A kind of salvation in the dark. To what influence do you attribute that style in your writing? What advice would you give to those looking to create a similar music in their fiction?
Thanks for the kind words. This story has undergone a tremendous amount of revision since its inception. Probably the most out of any story I’ve written so far. I think this is because when I came up with the story, I had a really great story but not the sentence-level chops to write it properly. So I worked it until I was finally ready to write it well. I was thrilled to have it accepted by Roanoke Review and then thrilled again to have the story reprinted in the Surreal South anthology. My advice to other writers would be the same mantra they would get from anyone else: read a lot. I used write down sentences from other writers that I really liked and come back to those sentences and try to understand why I liked them so much. Read. For goodness sakes, read.
In an interview with SmokeLong Quarterly, you say you’re drawn to Southern fiction because the “conflicts are dirtier.” You talk, too, about O’Connor being an influence. That made me think about your ending in Out From Under. I think it packs a surprising and gritty punch. And it feels anagogic—not unlike one of O’Connor’s stories. Did you learn that technique from her? Also, how do you generally decide where to land, or end, a story?
I think so. The story usually decides where to end. The tricky thing about short stories is that their endings operate differently than novels. With novels, the ending had better be fully resolved or else the reader will feel cheated. My favorite short story endings leave the reader with a punch to the gut, often ending just on the cusp of resolution. Stories do need hard conflicts and hard consequences. Not only to keep the reader’s attention, but the protagonist can’t come out the other side of the story unchanged, and this notion of character-change or epiphany is paramount to the short story when compared to plot resolution.
Talk about being a mentor for PEN America’s Prison Writing Program.
I’ve been mentoring for PEN America for a little more than a year now, and the experience has been really terrific. It’s given me the opportunity to work with talented writers and exchange ideas, which I think helps both the mentor and mentee. Writing doesn’t and shouldn’t exist in a vacuum. We have an audience out there, regardless of how big or small. Even the most experimental or niche of writers seek a wide audience for their work, and the Prison Writing Program does an excellent job providing an audience for needful writers. Writing can be an expressive avenue toward rehabilitation.
What’s your favorite part about teaching at UNC Charlotte? What challenges you?
Teaching is as dynamic and imperfect a form as writing. It is absolutely one of the most challenging endeavors I’ve found myself in. My favorite part about teaching is discovering what better helps students allow themselves to take on the role as writer, not just people typing words into a screen. One of the best facilitators of writing development is a writing community, and the classroom helps create that sense of community.
What question have you always wanted to be asked as a writer?
I guess the one question that I have never been asked as a writer that I have always wanted to be asked is: So exactly how big of an advance do you want for that novel manuscript?