We recently published Jen Julian’s powerful “Small Predators.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) This is such a tense scene with the siblings alone with a man who is doing everything in his power to tempt them down from their safe place. Yet somehow they maintain control over the situation. Do you think this is a familiar experience for them, being alone as they are, and approached by a strange adult?
Being approached by a strange adult might be a new thing for these latchkey kids, but I wanted to write the narrator (the sister) as someone who has trained herself to be aware of potential threats, to live defensively. Her brother is older than her, but non-neurotypical, so he’s more vulnerable, probably to his peers as well as to strangers. I saw the sister as taking on a responsibility that she might not match her emotional maturity. She stands her ground because she knows that’s what she’s supposed to do, though I’m honestly not sure what the balloon man is doing. He could just be trying to sell some balloons. I wanted the tension to be in the unknowing, and then in the sister’s understanding of herself as this fierce defender of her and her brother’s turf.
2) I love the stories the narrator tells their brother about the balloon man. At the end, it seems like maybe the narrator has come to believe the stories as well. Does this vivid imagination serve the narrator well in this life they are living?
That’s a good question. When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time alone and developed a pretty vivid imagination. I actually do have an older brother with learning disabilities who required a lot of hands-on attention from my parents, so I was independent and entertained myself as needed. But this narrator’s situation is different from mine because her imaginative life is wrapped up in protecting herself and her brother, defending them from perceived threats, constructing the world as us v. them. When she imagines herself becoming more animal or imagines the balloon man as a monster, I assume she does that because she has to. But as I see it, there’s always an emotional trade-off happening whenever defenses go up.