Ed Winkofsky is a writer and lawyer in Chicago. His short story “Walter” appeared in FWJ’s fall 2012 issue. He is currently writing more Walter stories. We asked him to tell us a bit more about Walter and his writing process. Here is what he says.
Why did you choose an amusement park parking lot as the setting for “Walter”?
There are really two answers to that. First, and I think that this is always the answer, I picked a place that was interesting to me. The parking lots at those parks can be astoundingly huge – shocking even, the way the size of a Wal-Mart use to be shocking. There are, or seem to be, rules of procedure. The attendees tend to fall into set classes (e.g. families with young children, tweens with chaperones, teens, etc.). So there is a lot going on there, a lot of opportunity for exploration, and that is all I know when I get started.
Second, once I get going, I have to make sure that it is still working for the character and the story. There is something sad about the parks themselves – everyone chasing amusement – or, if not sad, there is at least the opportunity to fail – seeking fun and not finding it. At the same time, the parking lot is right next door to the fun. Walter wants to genuinely be a part of that world and so he gets as close as he can. At that point, I decided, Ok, the setting seems to be working, adding some real value to the story as a whole.
It is also a bit absurd – and I like that. Maybe that was three answers.
Did you have a specific amusement park in mind when you were writing the story?
Growing up, we would spend occasional summer days at King’s Island near Cincinnati, Ohio, and later at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio. Those places are both a part of it, but so is the parking lot at Six Flags Great America. I can see it from the highway when driving up to Wisconsin.
Are there certain people in your life who provide inspiration for your characters? If so, do you piece together each character from a few people or just one?
The characters are, at a minimum, always composites of more than one person. There is a little bit of me and a little bit of my family and friends. For example, I knew a guy in college who drove a fabulous, gray Buick Century. I remember the way it would rock from side to side whenever we hit a bump in the road, as if it was proving to the world just how elegant it could be. Of course, the similarities between Walter and the kid who owned the Buick probably end with the car. This may seem a bit ridiculous to say, but the characters are also made up. A piece from this real person or that real person, sure, but also a piece from my concept of what “loneliness” or “middle-age” or “bearded man” means.
Loneliness is a very strong theme in “Walter.” Though brief, the personal ads give readers a quick yet deep glimpse into the lives of your characters. Do you use the personal ads device in some of your other stories? Also, how did you come up with using them to aid in character development?
I have not used the personal ad device in any of my other stories and, frankly, I have mixed feelings about [the ads]. They are gimmicky and are, I believe, a bit antiquated. Yet, they are also so efficient and such an obvious talisman of the lonely life. In the end, I left them in, telling myself that it is ok to do something that feels lazy and distracting if it is also working.
As to their origin, I, like everyone else, was reading David Foster Wallace, and, like everyone else, was enthralled with the footnotes. So much information in such a small space.
As an aside, I do really enjoy loneliness as a theme and feel as if everyone completely underestimates the impact that it has on the trajectory of a life.
You mention David Foster Wallace as a source of inspiration. Which other writers have influenced your work? How so?
This one is always a tough one. I am not messing around when I say that everything I read influences my work. Example: Paul Luikart, a local guy and fellow [University of Chicago] Graham School alum, was just nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Paul is a friend of mine. He wrote me a funny Christmas card one year. I find myself stealing from that to craft my next story. But, I am sure that this is not what you were looking for when you asked this question.??Honestly, I really have no idea. I am impacted by the stories that I read, certainly, but I cannot tell you who is channeled into my writing and who is not. I read CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders just last year, and that resonated with me. The way that he tells stories – blending real and unreal into irreverent and ridiculous truth – is the way that I would like to tell stories. Paul Auster was big for me in some of my more formative years – college and immediately after – The New York Trilogy, The Music of Chance. Gabriel Garcia Marquez was also a big deal – both short stories and his longer works. I like stories that are accessible but not pandering. I am insanely jealous of Patrick Somerville (another local), who seems to have the universe whisper the essence of dialogue into his ear while cranking out drafts of terrific novels. All influences to be sure, but I don’t know how, exactly, or how much.?? And right now I am reading The Once and Future King and loving it. Will T.H. White have a big influence on my work? Who knows, but I will never look at the migration of geese in the same way and have been reminded how amazing it is to learn new things.
What is the main thing you want readers to take away from your writing as a whole?
Gosh, Annie, I don’t know. I guess I want the same things for readers that I want for me – as reader, writer, husband, father, and person. I want to be entertained and engaged, and to uncover unexpected and elegant but nonetheless messy truths. I want to get done with something and say, “That was fun,” and to mean it in a simple way, but to also know that whatever it was took me someplace new and, at the very best, will come back to me to enrich a future moment or force me to reconsider the past. Simple, right?
– Interview by Annie Bruckner, Media Assistant at Fifth Wednesday Journal.