I live at the edge of a salt marsh, where it opens into a cove then meets a river that flows into a bay and finally — on the far side of some harbor islands — enters the sea. It isn't an especially large marsh and not even the largest in town. But having it there, seeing the tide's ebb and flow when I look up from writing at the kitchen window or outside on the porch, keeps my mind on some things I like fiction to do. Things I hope my own writing, at least sometimes, is doing.
It's a kind of distraction, that view of the marsh, and I can be easily diverted from the task at hand by wondering what tune is played by a row of tall, white egrets with their long necks and low bodies like notes on a staff. Or by the too-rare sight of one of the coyotes who make their homes in or along the marsh, sometimes seen trotting through the tall grass or miserably skulking down the street at mid-day in a downpour after presumably being flooded out of a den.
And once, late at night, by the unsettling shriek of a fisher too uncannily like — especially at that hour — the howl of my then-infant daughter in pain.
The marsh and that view and the animals and plants and even microbes unignorable in it remind me that all stories are bigger than just human lives, and that the ones I write must be, too. My shadow may fall on a landscape, but it takes up only a very small space. It's hardly the most important patch, and I've come to feel that way about stories, too: displacing or at least disrupting human lives and desires as primary, and not taking for granted assumptions about what makes a story worth telling or how.
Readers, as they've sometimes told me in person and by email and in reviews, aren't always on board with that. But others have told me they're excited, as I am, by fiction that gives a sense that you could pull the people out of it altogether and something worth paying attention to would still be going on. That's far more interesting to me than plots tidily determined by human action and desire, into which nothing wild intrudes, because even the most domesticated, deliberate landscape is always crawling with spiders and dust mites and weeds.
Steve Himmer has published a number of novels and teaches at Emerson College, Boston in the US. Scratch is published in the UK on 8/5/17 by Wundor Editions. It is a strange and unsettling tale about one man's encounter with the wild, and a shapeshifter that inhabits it. Order your copy here