Today’s View From the Keyboard comes to us from ROB ROENSCH, a Towson University colleague of Michael Downs, previous View contributor. I don’t yet know Rob’s work, but I wholeheartedly look forward to reading his collection, The Wildflowers of Baltimore, which will be released next month from Salt Publishing. This is a big deal, really, this debut. The book was selected as the winner of the International Scott Prize for Short Stories by the director of Salt Publishing, Jen Hamilton-Emery. Says Hamilton-Emery about the selection process and the two award winners: “Making selections from the shortlist has been difficult but I have focused on the books which I believe have a depth and maturity of talent that all readers will immediately recognise. Carys Bray and Rob Roensch combine impeccable craft with unforgettable imagery to create stories that are surprising, psychologically resonant, emotionally complex and, above all else, a sheer joy to read. Carys and Rob, on either side of the Atlantic, both demonstrate that the short story is thriving and developing in the 21st century and I look forward to working with the writers and publishing their books later this year.”
Congratulations to Rob Roensch for this distinguished honor, and thanks, Rob, for letting us into your space.
ROB: I’ve always worked in fits and starts—more or less daily, an hour here, a half-hour there. I’ve never been to a writers’ colony—I think all that time might be paralyzing. I’m lucky to be able to work this way; now, with two young daughters and a forever-regenerating stack of essays to grade, I rarely, if ever, have a free block of time.
If I do come into possession of two hours, especially in the late morning (my brain’s favorite time), then I’ll probably go to a coffeeshop and work there. But if I have less time, if, say, Tully is watching a movie and Penny is napping (or even if they both seem momentarily absorbed with crayons and paper at the dining room table) I’ll sit here on the couch by the dollhouse and try to get a paragraph sketched, a page line-edited.
I really like the big window across the room. Through it I can see Baltimore: a brick chimney, the 7-11, and, in the evenings, the sun setting over Druid Hill Park.
What you can’t see in this photograph is two-year-old Penny charging toward me with her crumpled up copy of Maisy Goes to the Library, desperate to hear if Maisy will be able to find that book about fish she is looking for. (She does. It is “sparkly.”)
This is an excerpt from the title story to my collection, The Wildflowers of Baltimore, forthcoming from Salt. The story takes places roughly in my neighborhood, on the sidewalk just outside my front door and in the city park two blocks north; it’s told from the point of view of a father whose young son disappears the night before the science fair. While I was working on this story, the Peterson First Guide to Wildflowers, referenced in the excerpt, was always near at hand, in the bookcase just outside the frame.
THE WILDFLOWERS OF BALTIMORE – an excerpt
There was an unfamiliar malice in the city I loved: the brick rowhouses stretching in every direction to infinity, shadows pooling and shifting along the porches as I walked by.
I knew the only way to seek my son was to retrace the steps we’d taken, together, when we’d sought wildflowers.
My son was not around the corner at the patch of bare dirt between the curb and the sidewalk where we’d found his example of chicory. I knelt to touch what now-limp blue flowers were left. I could see in my mind each perfect square of handwritten description that he’d glued below each specimen. He’d copied the text directly from the Peterson Guide—he’d refused to see the logic of “using your own words.” He’d also refused white-out; instead, if he made even the smallest error—a stray mark, a misspelling–he crumpled the offending square and began again. For chicory, along with scientific name and information about range and blooming season, he’d written, in his both neat and warped black handwriting, “The clear blue flowers that hug the nearly naked stems wilt and surrender their beauty by midday.” I was struck by the simple fact: The flower existed. It was real. I knew the name. I was touching it. What if that is how my son feels about the world, all the time? Some things that seem small are really desperately important.
For more on Rob Roensch and his forthcoming, international award-winning collection, you can find his website here: https://sites.google.com/site/robroensch/. Follow him on Twitter here: https://twitter.com/robroensch. As always, thanks for reading! -PMc