Josie Sigler tells the story behind the story of “Breakneck Road”:
This story has its inspiration in both Michigan and Maine, two states I love and have lived in on and off for most of my life, despite my general predilection for rambling. There is an old abandoned dirt road on Mount Desert Island in Maine called “Breakneck Road”; it was built in 1777 and people use it now as a hiking path. One winter, I walked there often, and knew I’d use the name in a story someday. On the days I didn’t walk, I jogged along the road near a small power station on the island. A good friend had just had a baby, and I had been marveling about how tiny he was. Near the station, an empty Coke box sat for days on the side of the road untouched by the plow. The very first time I saw it, I thought: that baby would fit curled up in there. Even having thought that such a thing could be possible, I had to slow my pace each day and glance down into the box; I felt very strongly this strange responsibility to the could-be baby. The feeling of “Breakneck Road” was born in the split second before I experienced the relief of finding the box empty each day.
I set the story in Michigan once I had an inkling of the plot partly because Joe is based on my dad, who is as married to the mitten state as it’s possible to be. My dad was a single dad for awhile, and Joe’s somewhat bumbling care for the baby mixed with his utter commitment to doing the best he can with what he’s got is what’s really at the heart of this story, what I hoped to convey. But I had also been wanting to write about the people who live at the temporal, economic, and geographical edges of the industries for which Michigan is famous. This was partly inspired by an article I read about a man who hunts and sells raccoon meat in Detroit now that the wilderness is taking back the more decayed parts of the city. Joe’s career as a thief, easily my favorite invention moment in writing the story, was inspired by my wish to demonstrate how logical the choices of so-called criminals are when you consider the stark divide between being middle class and poor in America. I loved writing the lines about thieving being a family trade, passed down from generation to generation, just like any other family business. Joe’s father, who by most people’s standards isn’t much of a father, has given him the skills he needs to survive and be a good father.
Last year’s Fiction Editor Aaron Kier reflects on Silk Road‘s history working with Josie Sigler:
While an associate editor at work on Issue 4, a moment of magic happened: a story entitled “My Last Horse” by Josie Sigler landed in my inbox. The more I read, the more I was transported – to a place both rugged and frail, populated with characters fiercely independent and inextricably bound together, through a narrative unique yet immediately familiar to my soul. It was the most deeply human and touching story I’d encountered in a long, long time. And it broke my heart.
So, a year later, while reading as Fiction Editor, without realizing it, I was searching for something in the submission piles that was eluding me. I was looking for magic. Which finally prompted me to do two things. First, I reread “My Last Horse,” and after I’d finished weeping, I searched out an email address for Josie Sigler and dropped her a note asking if she had a story she wouldn’t mind sending us. She sent four. Every one filled with her distinctively gritty yet musical prose, telling tales unexpected and hard-hitting and rooted in the depths of human failing and redemption. In some ways, “Breakneck Road” was merely the best of the four – because if page counts and shameless favoritism hadn’t prevented it, I’d have published them all. Ultimately, what won us over in this story is precisely what sold me on Josie Sigler in the first place: unquestioned belief that even the most bankrupt, broken and seemingly unworthy are transformed in the face of real love. Therein lies the magic.
Josie Sigler’s stories and poems have appeared in Water~Stone, Copper Nickel, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Harpur Palate and others. Her chapbook, Calamity, was published by Proem Press. Her book of poetry, living must bury, winner of the 2010 Motherwell Prize, was published by Fence Books. Her story “Deep, Michigan” received a special mention in the 2009 Pushcart Prize Anthology. She was recently awarded the Margery Davis Boyden Wilderness Writing Residency for 2011 for her short story “El Camino” (published in Roanoke Review). She writes a lot about the several stranded Midwestern towns in which she grew up, the cities that came after, and the Maine island she calls home.