“The Cages”—a collaborative work by B.J. Hollars and Brendan Todt—explores lust on the home front. When Jake Ambler leaves for Iraq, the narrator’s left to test his own allegiance as he lusts over Georgia Ambler—the wife Jake left behind. The piece, forthcoming in the next issue of Hayden’s Ferry Review, is the third section of a five-part chapbook. Previous sections are available online at DIAGRAM, Hobart Online and PANK Magazine.
Below is an interview between the collaborators:
BJ: As a poet, what's it like having to work with a wannabe fiction writer like B.J. Hollars?
BT: It's easy. As someone trying to write poems, the hardest thing for me is finding or creating the raw starting materials. B.J. always has an idea going, a text or two sitting on his desktop ready to rework, so that makes my job very easy. When I work with B.J., I'm essentially playing around. All the hard work has been done for me/us. I get to fiddle around with little things like language and maybe take the next stab at the narrative. He's already done the work of mining the raw ore. After that, it's just refining it.
Is it ever stifling to work with someone so concerned/obsessed with the minutiae of language or a sentence?
BJ: Hell no! That’s my flaw. I’m far too “big picture” and never start to look at minutiae. I think it’s why collaborations between poets and fiction writers are often so successful: One genre’s weakness becomes a strength in the hands of the other. I think poets and fiction writers are attracted to different things. When we read, when we watch movies, poets often seem to find the small wonders while we fiction writers often have an easier time admiring the larger moves, like plot and character. I suppose I can only speak for myself, but I know I rarely stop to take note of a fleeting beauty. I see a big shell and think it’s pretty great, poets like Brendan see the pearl inside.
BT: Where did the idea for BBall come from?
BJ: It’s been so long ago I can hardly remember. I remember the first draft being a “we” draft. As in, there was one communal narrator telling the tale of a group of guys who all wanted to do some pretty raunchy stuff with a soldier’s wife while he was overseas. And I guess I remember being haunted by this scene in Jarhead (the movie, at least, I can’t recall if it was in the book) where this soldier’s wife sends him this tape of her having sex with their neighbor. It was that feeling of helplessness—that idea that a guy can go off and fight for his country—only to find out that some scumbag neighbor is off banging his wife. I don’t think any thought has ever made me feel more uncomfortable. These two different sense of loyalty…like the soldier can fight loyally for his country but the neighbor can’t even fathom any sense of loyalty. Anyway, I sort of wanted to explore that from the neighbor’s perspective.
What was it like trying to get to know somebody else’s characters? I mean, I sort of plopped these characters on your lap and said, “Everyone, meet Brendan. He’s going to improve your story.” Was it a hard process? Did you feel like you knew these people from the start?
BT: Know them from the start? Definitely not. I’m not sure I know these people now. Maybe that’s odd to say, since they’re my characters, too (sort of). But I think that’s why I enjoyed this so much. You and I figured out pretty early on that it wasn’t going to be any kind of physical attraction that gets Will going after Georgia. So I think it was fun to create these situations and see how they dealt with them. I think that’s the beauty of fiction, and of humans. Crazy stuff can happen that, on the surface, doesn’t have any reasonable reason at all.
I know when we decided to collaborate on this project, we really went to town writing a bunch of lead-off paragraphs or sections. A lot of those got ditched. Is there any hope for those “extras,” possibly as up-starts for new stories?
BJ: I know! We’ve got like 50 diamonds in the rough, just waiting for some refinement, don’t we? I don’t know, maybe they have a future. I guess I don’t regret any of those words because I felt like every word we cut from the final piece added some friction to what remained, helping us shave off the excess so we could boil it down to the heart of the story. It’s funny to think about two dudes giving life to these characters. How we gave them so much life and then pared half of it back. How cruel, right? We’ll probably make pretty piss poor fathers, won’t we? Always missing our future sons’ soccer games and stuff, agreeing to go to all of them and then paring our promises back.
B.J. Hollars is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama where he’s served as nonfiction editor and assistant fiction editor for Black Warrior Review. He is also the editor of You Must Be This Tall To Ride published by Writer’s Digest Books. He’s published or has work forthcoming in Barrelhouse, Mid-American Review, DIAGRAM, Fugue, Hobart, among others and has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
Brendan Todt is currently the head men's soccer coach at Tri-County Technical College. He lives in Anderson, South Carolina with his new wife in their new house. He has poems or short fiction published or forthcoming from After Hours, Beeswax Magazine, and Hobart.