BULLshot: Forrest Anderson

BULLshot: Forrest Anderson

PW: I love how “American Vitality” is a story that unfolds over a series of correspondence/letters. Will you talk about your creative process and how you decided on this form for “American Vitality?”


FA: Thank you for the question, Pete. I adore the epistolary novel Fair and Tender Ladies by Lee Smith. It’s one of the most emotionally affecting novels I’ve ever read. I read it about ten years ago and I still feel like I have ‘something in my eye’ when I think of Ivy burning her never-mailed letters to Silvaney. I’d always wanted to give the epistolary form a try, but I never really had a story that suited it.

Then, a couple of years ago I was four pages into a story that was going absolutely nowhere. I was pretty frustrated. Honestly, I was frustrated with writing in general. It seemed to me that the writing I liked, which I guess I’d call realism, was out of fashion. I was worn out by so-called experimental and trendy flash fiction. I remember thinking while driving my son, Benji, to daycare one morning that if realistic short fiction was over and done with than I didn’t want anything to do with writing anymore. It was a pretty weak moment.

I walked Benji to his classroom and when I got back in the car I heard an advertisement on the radio for a male performance enhancer. Since I’m a thirteen-year old kid at heart, I found the commercial hilarious but instead of laughing I thought, “Man-oh-man, I ought to write an experimental flash fiction from the perspective of a guy hooked on a male performance enhancer.” I drove straight home, abandoned the four-page disaster, and wrote the story’s opening page as a letter to a company. Admittedly, the story started out from a pretty cynical place—writing what I thought was hip—but gradually I started thinking I could try to inject a bit of the heart and the sincerity of realism into the story. When I did, the story opened up in surprising ways. I finished the opening letter and realized with no small amount of dread that the company was going to have to write back. Before I knew it (not really, though, because the first draft took about seven months), I had a forty-eight page epistolary story that the good people at BULL helped trim down to thirty-two.

I guess I’d say my creative process is one of imitation, frustration, resentment, and a small dose of peevishness. Every now and then, though, it’ll approach something that resembles joy.


About the Author

Pete Witte writes and is the BULLshot Editor for BULL. He lives with his family in Arlington, Virginia.