In this segment of The Story Behind the Story, Heather Miller Price talks about what motivated her to write “Shotgun Fog.”
The idea for “Shotgun Fog” came from a family story that had always intrigued me. My maternal grandmother (who will henceforth be referred to as “Granny”) was the youngest of a very large family originating from Elliot County, Kentucky. One of Granny’s sisters, Gladys, had moved away from Kentucky when she married, and so they didn’t see each other too often. They took a lot of family vacations together, though. One year on vacation, when Granny and Gladys had a few moments alone, Gladys confided that her husband hadn’t been his normal self lately. Before she could explain, kids and husbands came back around and they never returned to the discussion. Less than a year later, Granny got a phone call that Gladys had been shot and killed by her husband, who then attempted to kill himself but failed.
My grandparents drove up to the hospital where Gladys’s husband was. Granny wouldn’t go in to see him, partly because she didn’t want to face him, partly because he used to make comments about how much she looked like Gladys even though they were over ten years apart in age. Pappaw (i.e. “grandpa”) went in, though, and asked him why. He said, “I don’t know what happened.” The diagnosis from the hospital was a schizophrenic episode, so he got help and was eventually released to be with his three sons. He even remarried. To my family’s knowledge, he never said Gladys’s name again.
This all happened in the late 1960s, when my mom was still a kid. I grew up knowing this story, but it wasn’t until grad school that I really started wondering about it. I’m working on a story collection set in a fictional town in Eastern Kentucky, and so I draw a lot from stories and legends and songs that had an impact on me growing up. I decided to write about this particular story because I couldn’t understand how this happened. How you think you know someone, and then they snap and they’re a different person. “Shotgun Fog” was my attempt at understanding a perspective alien to my own, a situation I hope to never experience first hand in any capacity that my family had already experienced. This is why “Shotgun Fog” is written in second person, why there are so many ambiguities throughout.
Of course, it became it’s own story once out on the page—I never mention mental illness, for example, the characters all live in the same town, there’s a certain blurring of lines between humans and animals—but this was the genesis. As a young writer I was given the advice, “write what you know,” as so many of us were. I’ve often struggled letting go of stories because of this, but it is so important to take these stories, memories, moments, truths that we know and then let them become something new. And, in the case of “Shotgun Fog,” I couldn’t be happier with what it has become, and for the home it found at Fiction Southeast.