Julia Patt, the winner of our first ever Trading Card Fiction Contest, is kicking off our series in which we ask: Why do you write? Click on through to read Julia's contribution, and order your set of trading cards to read her first place story, "Fall 1970."

So, it all started with my childhood. I grew up rough on the streets of Baltimore. I survived only by my wits, and struggled through a difficult and often dangerous adolescence until I learned to find solace in the written word. I read David Foster Wallace and Gustave Flaubert and William Faulkner and they turned my cynical worldview completely upside down—or at least focused it to something purposeful. Art, I decided, was the answer.

Well, actually. That’s not my story.

Really, it all started in Naples, Italy, when my parents decided to immigrate to the United States in hopes of a better life. We settled in New York and began the near-insurmountable task of assimilating with American culture and finding work in an unfeeling city. We were often cold, often hungry, and at one point my siblings and I were placed in an orphanage because our parents could no longer afford to feed us. While there, I came under the tutelage of a young sister, who gave me contraband copies of Allen Ginsberg and J.D. Salinger.

Sorry. Not me again.

I’ve also never fled the tyranny of a totalitarian regime, explored the machinations of organized crime, or invaded a foreign country. I’m not a veteran or a political prisoner. I’m a vegetarian, but that’s hardly subversive nowadays, is it? I jaywalk more than I should. And I got a speeding ticket in Virginia once. It kind of sucked. I called my Mom. (Hi, Mom.)

And it gets worse. I wasn’t bitten by a radioactive spider. Gamma rays didn’t hit me and turn me into an angry, green person. I‘ve never (to my knowledge) fallen into a vat of ambiguously radioactive material. The Empire’s troops didn’t kill my foster parents. And my escape pod didn’t crash on Earth after my planet was tragically destroyed. No one’s ever delivered the maxim, “With great power comes great responsibility” to me in a serious and sincere tone—or any kind of tone.

That’s the problem with contemporary writers. We have lousy origin stories. We’re students and baristas and telemarketers and IT professionals and teachers and communications assistants and media-marketing specialists. I mean, maybe one in a thousand of us is personally interesting. And I’m very suspicious of those people—when, exactly, did they find time do such exciting things? And why do they bother with something as silly as writing when they have fascinating lives to lead? It defies comprehension.

Or it would, if the daily mechanics of living had anything to do with why people write. Which they don’t. That’s the point—at least for me. I write, not because of the minutiae that make up my day and not because of my well-adjusted and suburban upbringing, but in spite of those things. I write to get at the good stuff, the stuff that moves me. What’s going on in the world, good and bad; what’s going on with people, collectively and individually and psychologically (and other adverbs); and what might happen with all of it. That’s interesting. Way more interesting than what I had for breakfast or the walk I took to the park. The good stuff, the stuff that makes you stay up all night reading because you have to know what happens next, who wins and who loses or who lives and who dies, because it’s a damn good story.

It’s the same impulse that keeps me up writing—and I think it’s born out of that love of reading, that love of story outside of our experiences than makes people write. Honestly, if you ever meet a writer who says he doesn’t like to read, that all he needs to write is his own life, do me a solid and slap him.

You could also chastise him quietly but fiercely. That might work, too.

So, honestly, why do I write? Really, it all started with books. The ones my parents read me before I learned to read—Go, Dog. Go! and The Cat in the Hat and Aesop’s Fables. The ones we read for school—The Giver and Matilda and later Pride and Prejudice and Catcher in the Rye. And the stuff I picked up on my own—first anything with a dragon or an elf on the cover and then anything written by Stephen King and then the stuff I really learned to chew on—Margaret Atwood and Michael Chabon and Italo Calvino and Kelly Link and José Saramago and dozens of other writers who have not only given me the pleasure of reading their stories, but have taught me by example how stories can work. And made me consider what I might write.

Because that’s the other part of it, of course. So, you want to write, good for you. What are you going to write about? How’re you going to do it? But it always feels a little gross to me when writers talk about their work. It’s more than a bit like an act of public masturbation (sorry, Mom)—and I’m a very young writer, so it’s even an unwarranted act of public masturbation, because what do I really have to say about it anyway, being so young and so inexperienced and, as we’ve established, so boring?

Not much, but this: I like to write strange stories. And sad stories. I want to write the kind of story I want to read, the kind of story that puts me in touch, not with the world I know, but the world I don’t know. I like the kind of story that makes you scratch your head. If I’m going to spend hours with a story, I want it to be a little bit odd (if I wanted dull, I’d write about myself): one brown eye, one blue eye, mismatched socks, a bad attitude. The story that wouldn’t go to the pep rally and doesn’t eat its vegetables. The underdog. The one that bothers you late at night when you’re trying to fall asleep. The one that makes you miss your stop on the train. The one that surprises you, unsettles you.

And that is my story.


Julia Patt hails from Mitchellville, MD where her parents raised her pretty well and supported her brazenly impractical desire to be a writer from day one. She studies creative writing with the UNC Greensboro MFA program—they’re nice to her, too—and studies everything else via the internet. Her work appears in Surreal South ’11 and PANK, among others, and her flash fiction, “Fall 1970,” won the inaugural Trading Card Contest at Stymie, which totally made her year.