Nabokov, when asked by a New York Times’ interviewer about the state of Lolita and its relevancy or lack thereof in today’s youth market—chewing gum versus heroin or some other such playground—responded “…as I have said often enough, I write for myself in multiplicate, a not unfamiliar phenomenon on the horizon of shimmering deserts.” This statement stayed with me. Story as journey toward mirrored images cast into a desert, changing as if mirages in the sun. And upon finding one such mirage or mirror, it is reflex to turn, stare it down, a De Niro in Taxi Driver, “You talkin' to me?”

I suppose it could be accurate to say a writer mirrors in whole or part what the writer has seen, heard, experienced, and so to find story, the writer must trust herself to excavate the story internally if the story is to have heart, and so writing for excavation must be a willing pursuit, which does not go to say story is autobiographical or egotistical or sentimental, not at all, or at least it shouldn’t be. The best stories lack sentiment, in my estimation. So it is a tool of the writer to set one’s self down or apart and find the others, the multiplicates, imbibed through days and nights and years, cast them out onto the page best the writer can, let them marinate and form as separately from the writer’s ego as possible. And this is why I am often suspicious of writers who come to any particular story with set goals, social prejudices or “missions.” Over the last few years, my stories have been labeled any number of things—feminist, postfeminist, postmodern or post-postmodern or wherever we are now in that long set of posts, experimental… But from story to story, I never know what my characters are going to be or want or do until I’ve met them, spent time with them, until they’ve developed enough to tell me to get the hell out of the way and let them tell their stories. And then the form of the story follows the will of the characters. And this is the moment of most fun for me, I think, when a character pushes me out and takes over. Because, it is true, I am writing for the character and, for me, character begins the story. Maybe it is a common pursuit of the solitary writer, pining for our characters, as we are often so alone in our crafts.

Essentially, or at least more essentially, I write to be the characters’ submissive. And if I ever forget it, I look to characters to whip me back into position. That’s when I know if the story has become bigger than me, one that is worth further exploration and is potentially relevant to anything or anyone else and in this case, the story will offer a much better relevancy to me as well, because the story is then human and larger than any one person, or at least that is the hope, the drive, but it is really not up to me to say from the start of any one draft that it will be this or that. It will simply be, as mongrel or polished as it must be. I try to listen to what the story needs to be.  And sometimes we must kill our darlings, let them rest. Move on. But then, we all know this, so I’m not really adding anything new to the discourse.

The rest of the time, I am chasing multiplicates in the shimmering desert, and though it can be a lonely, solitary pursuit, I know other writers are out there somewhere, chasing their own. Truly, if I could do anything else, anything less solitary and painful—yes, writing honestly can be the most masochistic art—I would. But I’m simply not equipped to do anything else. Once I thought I could, but now, I know better. Or maybe that is the junky in me talking. There is a high in the process. No doubt. I will cop to it.

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Rae Bryants short story collection, The Indefinite State of Imaginary Morals, released from Patasola Press, NY, in June 2011. Her work has appeared in The Paris Review, StoryQuarterly, McSweeney’s, BLIP Magazine, Gargoyle Magazine, and Redivider, among other publications and has won and been nominated for awards. She writes reviews for New York Journal of Books, Washington Independent Review of Books, Puerto del Sol, The Nervous Breakdown, and Portland Book Review. She has received fellowships from the VCCA and The Johns Hopkins University, where she earned a Masters in Writing, teaches creative writing, and is editor in chief of the university-housed literary and arts journal, The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review.