Caitlin Woolley discusses her short story, Baby Boy, from Arkana Issue 9.
Questions from Arkana’s Fiction Editor Victoria Mays & Arkana Staff.
Victoria Mays: The language in this story is so poetic, and I love how the imagery plays with tongues and language itself. Why did you choose to tell the story more figuratively rather than using a more traditional format?
Caitlin Woolley: This story is a history of memory. There’s not a lot of present action—it’s all cyclical emotions like reminiscence and feelings and resentment and love and relief, all intoxicating in their own way. Once I started writing, I found I was less interested in exploring what happened through traditional scene than I was figuring out how the narrator felt about it, what it meant to him. For me, he was such an intriguing mess of complicated emotions I couldn’t resist spending time in his head. That led me to writing in this voice that’s wounded by memory and burdened by that pain—and maybe even a little indulgent—to try and express what he’d felt for so long. And because memory and emotion are themselves so figurative, it made sense to write the story figuratively, too.
VM: The perspective is so haunting: a grandfather who couldn’t really love his troublesome grandson despite years of trying. What made you decide to tell the story from his point of view rather than the mother’s?
CW: Selfishness and vanity! My grandparents moved into an assisted living facility just before the pandemic started, so I haven’t been able to go visit them, and I really do not call them as often as I should. I wondered—worried, rather—if that affected the way they think of me. I never even considered writing it from the mother’s perspective—the grandfather’s voice was the only one that interested me. So you could say this story functions as a manifestation of that anxiety. (I called them last week!)
VM: What inspired you to write this piece?
CW: Oh, so many things that all came together to make this piece happen. I’ve been working from home for close to a year now, which means I’ve gotten to experience so many neighbor sounds in such close proximity. The family that lives below us has a little toddler who is very, very loud. Always screaming, crying, throwing things. In a moment of irritation, I started wondering what this little kid would be like as an adult, if he never grew out of these behavioral patterns. What would his life look like? What would he do to the people who love him? What would happen if he always lived this way?
Then, over the summer, a very dear, enviably talented friend of mine asked me to look at a piece of flash fiction she’d written. I was captivated by a line about a little girl with pockets full of seeds and cookies, an image that helped give shape to “Baby Boy.” So if your friends ever ask you to read things for them, do it—smart friends are the best antidote to writer’s block.
This last influence is much sillier. I listen to a lot of metal music, especially while I’m working during the day. When I was writing this story, I was listening a lot to Lamb of God’s song “To the End,” which includes a lyric that goes: “Oh Lord have mercy, thank God you’re gone/ Here’s to the end, thank God you’re gone.” So while it’s not as profound an answer as I’d like to give you, that song’s sentiment definitely wormed its way into this story.
Read Baby Boy here!