from an interview with Tony Earley conducted by Hattie Fletcher for Nidus
“I can’t write any piece, fiction or nonfiction, until I come up with a metaphor. I hate the idea of writing on only one level. Often just walking around through the world, I’ll see something and think, damn, that is a great metaphor—for what? And so I have a metaphor, but I have no thing to hook it to. And so, a piece usually results when I find I have both sides of the equation. I love metaphor. I like metaphor better than I like narrative. I’m a whole lot more interested in writing in between the lines than I am in what’s accomplished in the lines themselves. Exposition, you know, moving characters through space, getting a character to the airport on time so he can catch the plane —I hate that stuff. I would much rather do a metaphorical construction than character development. . . .
“I’ll have enough of a voice to get started, and often I discover the metaphors while I’m working. I think my subconscious is rapidly trying to connect things, and once I actively start writing then I discover the metaphors in the piece. Usually it’s where I say, this looks like that. And once I’ve had that realization, I can go back through and put in the textual stuff to link them. But often I won’t understand until I’m well into a piece that I have in fact constructed a metaphor, and then I’ll go, there it is!
“I love that moment. When I teach to my students, I call it the “thing” and the “other thing.” The “thing” is what the story is about, and the “other thing” is a parallel narrative, something that looks like the “thing” but isn’t. Like, in my story “Here We Are in Paradise,” there’s a pond that has snapping turtles in it, and the snapping turtles eat these painted ducks, and the people who own the pond, the wife is dying of cancer. So the turtles eating the ducks looks like cancer, but it isn’t. It’s “thing” and “other thing.” And I try to do that in fiction and in nonfiction both. Actually, I think that’s the classic American short fiction template.”