The Story Behind the Story: “Frankenstein, Palmer, Michigan”

I’m not sure why I wrote “Frankenstein, Palmer, Michigan.”  It just spilled out of me.  I think I like masks.  I’m intrigued by masks.  I think of how brilliant Ntozake Shange’s writing is.  I have a screenplay, The First Real Halloween, that won best screenplay at the International Family Film Festival.  It’s all about masks.  Halloween and the Fourth of July were my favorite holidays as a kid.  I used to wear masks with my roommate in college.  We’d dance around our dorm room to Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the door open, a gorilla mask on his face and I think it was a ghost mask on mine.  He was really short and I was really tall.  We’d dance like dorks, as dorky as we possibly could, with cheerleaders and jocks walking by in the hallway, and this ability to pretend like they had no idea who we were based solely on having our heads covered, as if they didn’t know who we were just by our room number alone, just by our strange bodily builds.  We didn’t care.  We were hidden from the world in our minds.  It was freeing.  Mask is etymologically tied to the Arabic for ‘buffoon.’  I met two ex-girlfriends of mine on Halloween.  It’s a time where you get to dress up as some sexy version of yourself, a cowboy or whatever.  Sexy and stupid.  It’s a good combination, sort of.  The story was really about my roots with masks though, how I wanted to cover my face as a kid.  I was horrified when it said that you wanted an “author’s head shot.”  Even the words ‘head shot’ make me think I’m becoming a target.  I got a death threat for my first novel, so I wish that my head shot could be a picture of Emily Dickinson.  In fact, feel free to do that.  I submitted a photo where I’m standing next to Rafael Alvarez who wrote for the best TV show ever, The Wire.  Speaking of amazing writers, I remember one time being in a hotel lobby with Arthur Miller.  (It’s a long story).  But no one was recognizing him and I asked him how nobody could be recognizing him and he said that’s what he loved about being a writer–you could be famous and invisible at the same time.  As a final note, I should add that Palmer has basements.  I think I said in the story that Palmer doesn’t have any basements.  It does.  But that’s what the character in the story believes, so I’ll go with what he believes in that moment.  I’m just happy that there is a short story in the world set in Palmer, Michigan.  I think it’s the only one ever.  There should be more.  I’ll tack this on too, since we’re talking about amazing writers and horror is a theme here.  At the WGA, I was talking with Glen Mazzara, a writer for The Walking Dead.  I mentioned how I’d got a death threat for my first book.  He told me that’s nothing, that writing for The Walking Dead he’d get a death threat once a week.  Apparently TV fans take the writing very seriously.  I think masks should be handed out to writers.  It should come with your MFA.

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About Ron Riekki

Ron Riekki's books include U.P.: a novel (nominated for the Sewanee Writers Series and Great Michigan Read), The Way North: Collected Upper Peninsula New Works (2014 Michigan Notable Book awarded by the Library of Michigan, Eric Hoffer Book Award finalist, Midwest Book Award finalist, Foreword Book of the Year finalist, and Next Generation Indie Book Award finalist), and Here: Women Writing on Michigan's Upper Peninsula (2016 IPPY/Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal Great Lakes—Best Regional Fiction and Next Generation Indie Book Award—Short Story finalist).