“The Mudpuppy” by Rachel Furey
Volume #1, Issue #5 • January 10, 2013
Rachel Furey received her MFA from Southern Illinois University and is currently a PhD student at Texas Tech. She is a winner of Sycamore Review’s Wabash Prize for Fiction, Crab Orchard Review’s Charles Johnson Student Fiction Award, and Yemassee’s William Richey Short Fiction Contest. Her work has also appeared or is forthcoming in Fifth Wednesday Journal, Sweet, Hunger Mountain, American Fiction, and Chautauqua.
Since your twin sister was taken to a treatment facility for anorexics in Durango, Colorado, volunteering at the old folk’s home has become your favorite part of the day. While your classmates played the piano, put on skits, or read from their English books, you brought tadpoles in jars, a plastic model of a frog’s skeleton, or snake skins from your backyard. The women in the knitting circle wouldn’t let you near them, but the men loved your swimming tadpoles and salamanders stretched out on moss. Mrs. Wright, one of the few women who wouldn’t take a seat in the knitting circle, loved the snake skins—loved to run them between her fingers. She said if she’d known snakes felt that good, she would have touched them years ago. You didn’t tell her about the boa that had visited your second grade classroom, the one that lifted its head when your hand was on its back, turned to stare at you. You didn’t say you wet yourself in front of your entire class and left a dark puddle on the carpet.
Q&A by Pei-Ling Lue
Where did the idea of this story come from?
It came from a few different places. I have a twin sister, so I know how special that connection is. I also know how hard it is to be apart now that we’re adults and live in different locations. When I was Eliza’s age, I, too, was interested in reptiles and amphibians. I wanted to be a herpetologist until a frog dissection in seventh grade made me realize I could never stand to cut the creatures open. I really did find a dead baby turtle the way Eliza did in the story. I, too, placed it in a bowl of water, hoping it might spring back to life, which, of course, didn’t work. I still have that small turtle in a specimen box on a bookshelf at home, so it served as inspiration.
What was the most challenging aspect of writing this story?
The ending. This is true of most stories I write. I wanted a resolution—for Eliza to experience at least a small moment of comfort. But I also wanted it to feel realistic and still be surprising. I knew Mrs. Wright couldn’t provide Eliza with what she needed, so I had to try out other scenarios.
How long did it take you to complete this story?
It took me about a month to complete a full draft in which all the scenes were working together. After that, I went through more revisions. I’m always working on more than one project at once, so I was able to set the story aside for a while and come back to it with a fresh perspective.
I had never heard of a mudpuppy before reading your story. Have you ever caught one?
I haven’t. But I have spent a lot of time poking around in ditches and ponds looking for one. I figured it was time to catch one in a story.
The owl scene at the lake is so lovely. Did you ever witness such a scene?
I haven’t. I’ve walked around ponds at night and seen bats skimming the surface for insects, so I could imagine an owl flying in. My sister and I have a tandem kayak, so I’ve been kayaking, and I’ve seen bald eagles from a kayak before, but not an owl catching a bat.
What do you think happens to the main character and Jody after the story ends?
I have ideas on this since I’m following the characters through a novel, but I don’t want to state specifics since I’m still working on revisions of the book. I do have another story about Eliza up at Hunger Mountain’s website
Did you ever volunteer at an old folks home?
The events in this story happen in an afternoon, how did you decide to come up with this structure for the story?
It wasn’t a conscious decision that I had from the beginning. The story happened to turn out that way. I always start with a clear conflict and then follow the character through that conflict. As I wrote this story, it became clear that Eliza’s conflict could reach a resolution by the end of the afternoon.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a YA novel that focuses on the characters from the story, Eliza and Jody. Most of the novel, as it stands right now, is from Eliza’s point of view, but there are also a few sections from Jody’s point of view.
What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever gotten?
Have fun with it. This isn’t to say writing isn’t hard work. It is. You have to be determined and spend a lot of time working at it. But if you’re going to devote yourself to writing, then you might as well choose to write stories that interest you and excite you. If you find yourself laughing out loud and having a good time while you write, well then there’s a decent chance the reader will have a good time reading it.