Savannah Wade is the author of Small and Hidden, the 2nd place winner of our One Month of Solitude Writing Competition.
AE: What inspired you to write “Small and Hidden”? Obviously, it involves references to a pandemic, but was there anything more specific that inspired you to write this?
SW: I’d seen the contest and it’s everything I’m about. I love magical realism. This is a historical event and there’s something monumental in the way we write about it.
My desk is situated by a window right across from an apartment building that matches my own, and it has some balconies that meet my own. So I’ve been watching people go about their lives— watering their plants, sitting on the porch watching the rain. It made me start thinking about creating a relationship that begins that way. It’s as simple as that, believe it or not.
AE: When I read this piece, I was struck by the unique perspective. Do you feel like you’d want your readers to come away with anything in particular after reading this piece?
SW: To me, the main hinge of this piece is “ghost.” The reader is the ghost working through the main character. How is it when you’ve passed away and you’re “stuck” here, yet everyone else is stuck here too, alive or dead? Even though it’s a ghost story, it’s not a horror story. It’s not meant to be scary. But when you’re a ghost, all you have is isolation— you’re in the same space constantly, you can’t talk to anyone, you’re cut off. And this pandemic is essentially giving the main character a way to connect and have someone understand him.
I think the takeaway is having empathy and understanding for people who aren’t new to this situation, people who are always stuck and maybe “ghosts” in their own life, whether they’re sick or not.
AE: Is this piece set in present day, or is it a looser, maybe more futuristic setting?
SW: I will definitely say that it’s set in present day. When I reread it this morning, though, I’d forgotten that I’d written “100,000 white sheets” in reference to how many people had died in the pandemic, and that’s actually where the death count is right now. I wrote this a month and a half ago. So looking back, it’s incidentally too present. When I wrote this piece, it wasn’t necessarily the worst case scenario in my mind, but I thought of it as being a situation a few more months from now. A situation where that number has come and gone, the country is opening back up, the active cases are decreasing. I wanted to give this story a hopeful edge, a sense that things are coming out of the clear. So maybe it was originally meant to be present, but diverted into an alternate future.
AE: Could you comment on the romantic aspect of this piece, especially within the context of a pandemic?
SW: I was going for a love story. “Small and hidden,” even though the characters in the story are referring to atoms, also refers to what they’re going through. They’re two teenage boys in the middle of a pandemic. Their story won’t be known or heard, but their relationship— whether romantic or just intimate— is there.
Love and beauty doesn’t have to be cherry picking. Love is something that pops up a lot in my writing, even though I don’t write romance intentionally at all. I write in the horror, gothic, grotesque genres— a lot of atmospheric pieces— but love always shows up. My fiction is often about people who are unloved and isolated finding someone who is unloved and isolated too. Despite the atmospheric circumstances, they always find each other.
AE: How long have you been writing fiction?
SW: I only started getting into fiction the past two years. Before, I was a playwright and poet. And now I’m trying to be a historian by trade, so I get a lot of material from historical events.
During my senior year of college in 2016, I got a book of poetry called “Kettle Bottom.” I can’t remember the author’s name, but it’s a series of poems about a real-life mine exploding in West Virginia, and all of the poems are real voices from the people who lived there. It’s taking truth and turning it poetic. When I started playing with that idea in my own writing, fiction came out. I began taking these real-life events and morphing them into strange little stories.
I think the very first fiction piece that I ever wrote was one based on my ancestors finding a child on their doorstep. It’s an old family story, from my family in Western North Carolina. There was an old couple who wanted children but couldn’t conceive. One night, in the middle of the night while it’s raining, they start hearing cries— they find a baby on their doorstep.
If that’s a historical truth, what can be played with? I’m not sure if it really happened, but it’s a story my family likes to tell. It makes me think of the saying “truth is stranger than fiction.” That is my bread and butter. All these strange things that happen in real life— whether it be that old family story or what happens in the pandemic— to write about it is to turn it in to something we can hold on to.
AE: What are some authors that inspire your style?
SW: Thomas Wolfe, Stephen King, Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, Jean Toomer. Anyone who writes strange, gothic, emotional fiction. I just think that type of thing is beautiful.
AE: What have you been doing in quarantine? How do you stay inspired?
SW: I’m catching up on all TV and movies that I’ve put to the wayside. I’m trying to passively fill my “creative well.” This means watching things, playing board games with my roommates. I’ve been trying to indulge in my hobbies that I thought were dead. I’ve been trying to get back into meditating. I’m learning more about tarot cards. I take mini road-trips just to get out of the house— Warren, Old Salem. Exploring outside of my head has been the number one thing to help me stay inspired.