This week’s story by Denton Loving includes Mammoth hunters, the vast and dangerous arctic setting, and a protagonist who is trying to better understand himself against the memory of his deceased father. This is a story with complicated relational dynamics, an evocative setting, and evident, but not over done, research. Read the story here. And check out my interview with Denton below.
Keith Lesmeister: There’s so much going on in this story — very complicated relational dynamics — that I hardly know where to start. But with all that is going on, it’s written in a very calm meditative way, almost tranquil, which is in stark contrast to the abusive and constant threats of weather, polar bears, and other dangers in the Arctic, where this story takes place. Can you speak to this contrast in voice and setting. Was this an intentional move? Or did it emerge naturally as the story progressed and took shape?
Denton Loving: You’re absolutely right about the Arctic being a place where the weather is forever threatening and there are a lot of dangers. But when I was writing the story, I also thought about how there must be moments of absolute stillness, which is when it might seem the most cold to me. In some way, I hoped the tone of the story would mirror that idea, but I admit that the story and that tone mostly came to me in that voice without my having a lot of conscious input.
KL: One of the complicated relational dynamics in this story is the father-son relationship. It’s so delicately explored, yet we know without question the son’s motivation as he tries to show himself (and the memory of his father) that he can live a much different life than the one his father had intended for him or cautioned him against (which I won’t reveal here). My question is this: were the son’s opinions of his father the same throughout the writing process, or did they change through revision and discovery and getting to know the characters on a deeper level?
DL: I would like to say that the narrator’s feelings changed and progressed as the story was written, but that’s kind of a hard question for me to answer. I never write a story with a strict plan. My process is to find and collect pieces that I hope will eventually fit together and then fill in the blank spaces. My hope is that the characters and the story will reveal themselves as I go, and I think that’s what happened with this story.
KL: The story of the father and son is set against the backdrop of the Arctic, where these Mammoth hunters and researchers search for frozen, well-preserved Mammoth’s. Where did the idea for this story come from?
DL: The idea for the story came from a true-event I read about where a mammoth carcass was found that actually did bleed. I had never imagined something like that could be true. I started researching everything I could find about that mammoth, which led me to so much great material. Even the ideas in the story about cloning mammoths are based on truth. A lot of scientists are all working on this idea, which I find endlessly fascinating.
KL: The depth of knowledge regarding Mammoths and history of the region (Arctic) is evident. How much research was involved in writing this story? Do you incorporate research in most/all of your stories?
DL: My stories don’t all require research because I’m often interested in the dynamics of simple human relationships. But I admire writers like Margaret Atwood and Jim Shepard who use research in so much of their work. When I was writing “How the Mammoth’s Blood Flows,” I had so much fun researching, and there was a lot of great material to read. I wound up with a lot of information that didn’t belong in the story, which seems to always be the danger with research. It can just go on and on, and you never get to the writing part.
KL: At the heart of this story is a man, the protagonist, who is trying to better understand himself while trying to make his mark on society through his Mammoth hunting/research, and we see this understanding of himself through the interactions with Benedick, the young research assistant. Specifically, when the protagonist acknowledges, “…I began to understand the fatherly feelings that had grown in me for the boy.” I don’t really have a question here, but Benedick’s importance is no small part of the story, as it allows the narrator to, in some way, better empathize with his father, perhaps. Can you discuss the narrator’s relationship with Benedick?
DL: I think you’ve nailed it exactly that the narrator’s relationship with Benedick allows him to identify with his father a little more. That relationship between the narrator and his father is at the heart, I think, of what I was investigating with this story. The relationship is different from the relationship I had with my own dad, but I gave the father character some exaggerated characteristics of my dad. My dad was a celebrated dare devil in his youth, but he worried excessively about everyone else getting hurt in some way. My feeling is that, in fiction, you have to sometimes walk your characters through their realizations, and Benedick helped me move the narrator closer toward the ending action of the story.
KL: I know these are really long questions, so let me end with this one: favorite winter drink, coffee or tea?
DL: Tea. Always tea. I actually don’t drink coffee, but I drink iced, sweet tea year round — a product, I suppose, of being from the South.
Denton Loving lives on a farm near the historic Cumberland Gap, where Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia come together. He is the author of the poetry collection Crimes Against Birds (Main Street Rag, 2015) and editor of Seeking Its Own Level, an anthology of writings about water (MotesBooks, 2014). His fiction, poetry, essays and reviews have recently appeared in River Styx, Prime Number Magazine, Southeast Review and The Chattahoochee Review. Follow him on twitter @DentonLoving.