The Story Behind the Story: “The Trespasser”

This story started with a vague but familiar feeling. I sometimes have the sense that I’m trespassing in the world, and I wanted to try to capture and explore that feeling in concrete terms. At first, I had no setting, so I let my mind drift, and I ended up on a road near where I grew up. What better place to explore feeling like a trespasser than one’s childhood home, right? The road passes by my father’s best friend’s field, and he, of course, grows sugarcane every year. My wife is from Indiana, so I imagined some sort of American-made car with Indiana plates stopping near the field. I can’t describe the person whom I imagined. It was me, but he didn’t look like me. I had to get into third person to understand what was happening. I never saw his face.

I realize this is turning into self-analysis instead of a piece about craft, but the process in this piece is inseparable from the latent content that produced it. My father and his friend also hunt quail, and I sometimes went hunting with them when I was younger. Even when I knew a covey of quail was about to flush, it still startled me. I suppose it’s how I experience fear, but it never seems limited to the stimulus that causes it. Once fear starts, it seems to amplify and surge through everything until it’s a kind of existential fear, a trap. I find darkness comforting, so the character in the story squats in the thicket until dark, at which point the guy is able to make his way back to his car. He can only find his way back into the world through taking pleasure from the world. However, he is completely unprepared to access this pleasure, so he has to mangle the sugarcane to taste the sweetness.

I certainly don’t use writing as therapy, but writing this story was therapeutic in a way. If I tried to write about the feeling again, the setting would probably be completely different. The character would probably be someone else. The mental process, however, would be similar. It would involve abandoning myself to the feeling and letting images form a kind of constellation or field around it. I wouldn’t know how it was going to end, as I didn’t know how this story would end. I would have to roam around it until I found my way out.

Regarding the style of the story, I like a rather flat, direct voice. The stranger things become, the more direct the voice has to be. In real life, I’m not very matter-of-fact, but I like people who are, and I wish I could be, so I like to write in that voice. I also like plain, guttural words. The story does contain some alliteration, and I almost decided to get rid of it during revision, but I kept it because I think the sounds help to create the atmosphere of the story. The “M’s” at the end of the story create a kind of moan, I think. In the sound, the character’s despair and pleasure seem to merge.

Jordan Sanderson

About Jordan Sanderson

Jordan Sanderson earned a PhD from the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. His work has appeared in several journals, including NANO Fiction, Caketrain, Double Room, Gigantic Sequins, and The Oklahoma Review, and he is the author of two chapbooks, Abattoir (Slash Pine Press, 2014) and The Formulas (ELJ Publications, 2014). Jordan lives on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and teaches English at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.