Joshua Howes’ short story, “Run,” appears in our Winter 2011-12 issue, guest edited by Alice Hoffman. “Run” begins with these lines:
This is a story about pretending. Imagine my father, a boy, not the old man who bought this shuttered house I have just cleaned out, here at the the tropical tip of Florida, but a boy of six, seven, eight, in a one-room school with snow-bent eaves, with another black eye, another chipped tooth, pretending he’s fallen from a tractor again or was kicked by a horse.
Here, Howes explains the significance of this piece in terms of his writing:
“Run” comprised a breakthrough for me in that it was the first time I turned directly to my own life and the lives of family members for inspiration and detail.
Previously I’d avoided the personal in my fiction, for reasons ranging from fear of embarrassment or vulnerability to theories I’d favored as an English major (art should be a mirror on the world, not a lamp for the self). My early work as a journalist also motivated me to go out into world and “find the story.”
With “Run” that changed. The story began as an assignment for graduate school: we were to take the first sentence “This is a story about _____” and go from there. Some people chose an object (“This is a story about a seashell”) but I found myself arrested on the street by the phrase “This is a story about pretending.” The phrase made me think immediately of my father. I thought especially of him as a young man running away from home. I decided to pursue this image and wrote most of the story in an afternoon at a rapid pace that matched the rolling pace of the prose.
Now, much of what came pouring out in “Run” is not my father’s life—the particulars are fictionalized. But the heart of the piece, this idea of self-creation and its limits, and the awe (and fear and mystery) a parent can inspire in a child, are drawn from my father’s life and my view of him.
Recently I gave my father a copy of “Run.” He had it framed and hung it in his office, which I consider an honor. It’s lovely to know that my father is proud of my first publication, and that it stems imaginatively from his life and our relationship.