Ben Loory's short story "The Woman Who Skied on the Rooftops of Houses: A Fable" appeared in our Spring & Summer '10 issue. It was one of our nominations for the Pushcart prize and today Ben answers some questions for us about inspiration, influence and finding our own answers within a story. Here's Ben!

Stymie: You said that you'd been kicking the idea for "The Woman Who Skied on the Rooftops of Houses" around for 10 years before you finally wrote it. What was the inspiration for the story, and why did it take you so long to start writing it?

Ben: Well, not to be incredibly boring, but… the inspiration was a dream. That I had back in 1998. In the dream, though, it was a little different… in the dream, I was the main character, this guy in his house trying to get some sleep (a very common dream of mine), but then there were all these bumping noises on the roof-- THUMP, THUMP, THUMP-- that wouldn't stop, and I opened up the window and looked outside, and I was living in this town on the side of a hill, sort of sloping down to the sea, and it had snowed overnight and the whole town was covered in huge, ten-foot drifts, and even though the sun was shining and it was clearly 85 degrees, all my neighbors were dressed up in puffy jackets and scarves and were slaloming down over the rooftops, jumping one roof to the next, one roof to the next, THUMP THUMP THUMP, all the way down the hill and then splashing into the bay at the bottom (which was unfrozen (and rather Mediterranean in feel)). And in the dream, I was upset, because I was trying to sleep (I can never sleep), and I kept yelling out the window and shaking my fist, "Get off my roof! I'm trying to sleep! I'm trying to sleep!"

So when I woke up in the morning, I laughed a lot, and then looked out the window to make sure it wasn't real. Then I went out into the living room and wrote the dream down. And I went around thinking about it for weeks and weeks, telling everybody about it like an idiot, and then one day I met this girl who was an artist and I told it to her and she immediately got out a piece of paper and some colored pencils and drew me a picture of the whole thing. Town, snow, skiers, the whole deal. It was really great and I hung it up on the wall. Every day I'd try to figure out what to do about it. For a while, I thought I could write it as a screenplay (at that point I was a screenwriter, not a story writer), but I could never figure out how to make it work… all the outlines I wrote seemed to revolve around the main character leaving the town in a sleep-deprived huff, and as soon as I left the town of the skiing people, I stopped being interested in the guy, who was just kind of a boring Scrooge-type character who only wanted to be left alone so he could sleep (story of my life). Which wasn't much of an engine for a screenplay. So after a while, I gave it up.

But I always had that picture on the wall, and it was never really far from my mind.

So anyway, skip ahead about ten years, and finally, I started writing stories. I had this very strict rule (which I still go by), that I start every day writing clean, no ideas, just a blank page and whatever the first image is that pops into my head. So I sat down to write one particular morning, and as I did, I noticed that drawing on the wall. Oh, I said, and next thing I found, I'd written the entire story. Which was the same as the dream and yet totally different; sort of flipped onto its head, and about a woman. I'm not exactly sure how those changes happened, but the whole thing makes me really happy. It's one of the few stories I've written where I read it and say "now where the fuck did that come from?" Which is pretty weird, because of all my stories, its origin is probably the most clear.

Stymie: Once you started writing the story, did you feel like the writing process was smoother after having mulled it over for so long?

Ben: No; it was about the same as usual. I mean, the desires were new, only the imagery was old. So I guess really it's more of a "loosely based upon" than an "adaptation of" kinda thing. I wrote the first draft in about half an hour and then edited it many times over a period of about ten months. Which is about on par with how I generally work (though I sometimes edit for much, much longer).

Stymie: In the story, the woman finds that she's most happy flying from rooftop to rooftop, regardless of what others think. But she has to lose that ability and that happiness, then regain it in a different form, before she can please her angry neighbors. And she smiles when she gains their approval. How much of her true happiness is she sacrificing for her neighbors' acceptance? Is it another type of happiness altogether?

Ben: I hope you don't mind, but I'm not going to answer that question; I think it's better left to the reader. I will just say that, in a general way, I think stories are about finding balance: balance in the characters, balance in the story-world, balance in the reader and the writer. And balance comes only through the sacrifice of something (even if it's the sacrifice of the hope of balance). Any time there's an ending where people find "true happiness," my guess is it's a bunch of crap. (Unless, of course, you have a sane sense of happiness; which is a rather rare thing.)

Stymie: In this story, and in your other stories, you certainly take to heart the phrase "economy of language." From the exposition to the very last sentence, the language is sparse and mostly absent of fine detail. Is this a style choice?

Ben: Yes.

Stymie: Who are your favorite writers, and which writers do you feel have most influenced your writing? Are they one in the same?

Ben: I have about a million favorite writers, but here are a few that come to mind: Beckett, Borges, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Philip K. Dick, Jean Rhys, P.G. Wodehouse, Kafka, Kapuściński, Clarice Lispector, Nathalie Sarraute, Patricia Highsmith, Richard Brautigan, Jim Thompson. I also like Walt Whitman, Kenneth Koch, John Donne, and the poetry (not the prose) of Stephen Crane, Tennyson's "Ulysses," Paradise Lost, "Jabberwocky," and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." And there's this mid-century cartoonist named Abner Dean, whose book What Am I Doing Here? is pretty much my favorite.

I guess, to generalize, what I'm looking for when I read is a unique, coherent, original vision which subsumes and electrifies me while I'm reading, and changes who I am in the process. I don't want to sip and stroke my chin, make notes in the margin and do a scholarly, pensive thing. Basically I'm looking for a rollercoaster ride that spits me out at the end as a different human being. (Preferably a human being with wings and X-ray vision who understands the thoughts and feelings of all.)

As for influences, it's hard for me to tell, but my guess is they are a different lot… probably the books I read and loved as a child: Aesop's fables, Roald Dahl (esp. Danny, the Champion of the World), Dr. Seuss, Choose Your Own Adventure, the Bible, Michael Moorcock and Tolkien and MAD Magazine, and this book called A Child is Missing, about the Lindbergh baby kidnapping, which I read over and over til it fell apart. Plus of course all those books about monsters and UFOs, pirates, serial killers, and ghosts.

Though really, when I compare those to the things I love most now, they seem pretty much of a piece. I've never liked dry, realistic stories about dry, realistic things. I want madness and passion, Herzog's ecstatic truth; I want a window onto other, better worlds. The day I write a story about professors and affairs, I'm off to find Ambrose Bierce in Mexico.

Stymie: What are you working on now?

Ben: I seem to have about a hundred projects, with more coming and going every day. But the ones that seem to always be sticking around are: two differently styled story collections (one about a town in which the stories are linked), a couple screenplays, a memoir about a pair of scissors, and a long crazy (not-)novel kind of thing which for some reason I refer to as a circus. But the editing and copy-editing of Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day has been my focus the last couple months. That should be over in the next few weeks, and then I'll be making a decision. (A hundred roads diverged on my hard drive, and me… I don't know which I've taken yet.)

Stymie: What is your favorite mythical animal?

Ben: Pegasus, of course! And Santa Claus.

Ben Loory lives in Los Angeles. His fiction has appeared in The New Yorker. His book Stories for Nighttime and Some for the Day is coming July 26 from Penguin Books.