When I was an undergraduate, a roommate and I split the cost of a couple of comic book subscriptions. The idea was to reduce anxiety during exams. I’ve always loved comics, and to see them just pop periodically through the mail slot (I’d always picked them up at a store) was miraculous. So I loved writing about a comic book reader who thinks himself a superhero.But my story is not really about comics. It’s about love, or at least about what a broken heart drives us to. (And I’ve realized that’s what underlies most of the stories in Ephraim’s Eyes, the collection that this story is taken from—and, in fact, a number of the pieces in my first poetry collection Etymology and many in the forthcoming A History of Glass are love poems). I don’t remember what exactly sparked the idea for my slightly peculiar love story, and I certainly didn’t know it would be about love when it started. I do know that it took awhile to take shape. It stalled out, felt all wrong, until I realized it had to do with the story’s voice. I’d written in originally in the first person. When I started from scratch in the third person, it seemed to come together.
The problem, really, was distance, and that has a lot to do with the challenge of writing love stories—or love poems. The challenge is to find the right distance, one that does not keep a reader too far from the heart, but does not allow the story to stray into sentimentality. And it seems to me that kind of distance is increasingly important in this (seemingly jaded) age where any love story, to be powerful, might need to be 'slightly peculiar'. We often need to be surprised by feelings because, if we see them coming, there is a tendency, at least for some readers, to put up the kind of defences reserved for telemarketers. Distance helps to forestall the emotional duck and cover, and as a reader I’m always grateful for that sort of peculiar surprise.