We recently published Madeline Hanley’s unique “Sometime in the Middle of a Long Summer.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) What really drew me to this story was that it is both strange and mundane at the same time — it is strange to have swimming practice in a wading pool, but it is so mundane for someone to become isolated like that. How do you balance these two, almost, extremes so well?
I try to write things I would want to read and read things I find relatable. I don’t always need to see myself in a piece of writing, but I want to know what it is like to feel what a character feels. There is something very relatable and human about experiences that are both strange and mundane at the same time. The two blend together to create a world that is somehow familiar – a backyard on a long summer’s day – even if the details are from an experience outside of your own. The youngest boy’s feeling of isolation is universal despite the strangeness of his circumstances. I found myself asking: why write about an ordinary swim team when I can just as easily write about one that has disbanded under unusual circumstances? I want my realism tempered with the unexpected. This often comes in the form of precise details, or mundane moments made infinitely more interesting by the manner in which they are presented. I think if that is done well, it can be hard to separate what is strange and what is mundane in a single story.
2) The youngest boy is such a great character; he feels like a real child. Was this character inspired by any children you know, or did he spring fully formed from your own imagination?
I don’t find that writing child characters comes naturally to me. I am inclined to characterize them as precocious, with interiority that suggests maturity and experience beyond their years. I often struggle to determine what actions are appropriate to attribute to a child of a certain age. But in my real life experience with children, I know they can be a roller-coaster grab-bag of hilarity and strange behavior. The youngest boy in this story is an amalgamation of many different children I’ve known. It was my intent to capture, above all, the weirdness of a child. They don’t always understand nuance. They may divide the world between goodies and baddies. They may try to emulate the family cat. They may be silly and stubborn and flat out refuse to act in a way that adults would deem reasonable. Adults, like the woman in this story, don’t always know why kids act the way they do, and they are so often too tired and worn down by adulthood to begin to find out. There is so much to explore in the gap between a children’s action and an adult’s reaction and I tried to write this story with that in mind.