Hunter Choate's story "Mirror Box" was recently listed as a Distinguished Story in The Best American Short Stories 2017. The story first appeared in issue 36.1 of The Pinch, and it captivated our staff with its flawless writing and powerful storytelling. Recently, we spoke with Hunter about how it felt to receive this distinction, as well as what inspires his stories, and where his writing's headed next.
Q: What have you been up to since publishing with The Pinch?
I've been working on short stories. I'd like to have enough for a collection soon. Beyond that, I was an opening reader for Lauren Groff at a Functionally Literate event here in Orlando. That was a huge treat. And, of course, there's a novel on the distant horizon. There's always a novel on the horizon, right? I'm a big believer in momentum, so I'm trying to buckle down and make it all happen.
Q: Can you tell us about the process that went into writing "Mirror Box"?
The story originated with the idea of a one-armed kid who wanted to impress girls by making the preposterous claim he was the drummer for Def Leppard. On its own that's little more than an absurdist joke and, while I enjoy humor, I aim to use it in service of illustrating the hard business of being human. So, as is often the case in my writing, the process was accretive. Years ago I'd learned about the use of mirror boxes to treat phantom limb pain, and once that information dislodged itself from the recesses of my brain and made its way into the story, I had the room for added depth. The third person narrator also unveiled himself in the writing process. His role in the story was a surprise to me and hopefully that translates to the reader's experience.
Q: What does it mean to you to have "Mirror Box" selected as a Distinguished Story in The Best American Short Stories 2017?
It's such an honor to have work mentioned alongside stories by so many authors whose work I admire. Writing is a lonely endeavor and it's brimming with rejection—my personal record is five rejections in the span of 24 hours—so there's a certain validation to the Distinguished Story nod that I'm sure will help fuel the writing for a good long while.
Q: Where do you look for inspiration? On a typical day, how long do you spend writing?
Inspiration is everywhere. The key is being attuned to it. I like the David Lynch example of paying close attention as random pieces to your creative puzzle are being flicked to you beneath a door. That said, a few things I look for include ways to balance the oddness and humor of life with its beauty and sorrow, and I’m a sucker for a striking image. I often think in terms of visual mnemonics. In the same way someone trying to memorize a deck of cards will assign visual cues to each card, at key points in my work I look to include images that have the power to linger.
As for the sausage making of getting the actual writing done, I try to wake up early and get in an hour or so before heading to the office. Unfortunately, I’m not a morning person and it takes me a while to get into the writing flow, so most of my progress is made on the weekends when I can steal a couple hours in succession to focus on the work.
Q: Just for fun, which do you prefer: dogs or cats, coffee or tea, rain or sunshine?
You couch this as being the fun question, but I’m already envisioning sternly worded letters from the militant wing of the American Kennel Club, the Peaceful Tea Ceremonies or Death gang and drought sufferers everywhere. I think I ought not answer. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge.
For more on Hunter and his writing, visit his website. To read his story, "Mirror Box," check out our limited edition PDF of 36.1, and for news about our upcoming publications and interviews, take a look at our new blog, The Spark.