Grief and Illusion in “We Imagined It Was Rain”

Andrew Siegrist’s debut short story collection, We Imagined It Was Rain, was released last month by Hub City Press. Siegrist writes intuitively; he doesn’t try to write Southern gothic stories, but the style “just sort of seeps in.” He’s lived his entire life in the South, moving from Louisiana and South Carolina to Tennessee. “A lot of thematic things you see throughout Southern literature are at play in some of these stories,” he said. “A lot of nature imagery and a connection to the land, and there’s religious aspects and family aspects to my writing.” 

Andrew Siegrist is a graduate of the Creative Workshop at the University of New Orleans. His work has appeared in The Baltimore Review, Arts & Letters, The Greensboro Review, Pembroke Magazine, Fiction Southeast, Bat City Review, and elsewhere. He lives on the Cumberland River outside of Nashville, Tennessee.

In the interview below, he discusses his craft and themes with contributor Lacey Lyons. 

How did you decide which images to emphasize in the individual stories?

I think, for me, it just comes down to what strikes my interest. What image makes me want to keep writing and ask questions about that particular image, that particular detail? It really comes down to what catches my eye. 

In what way is using everyday objects to explore the existential true to how we live our lives?

In writing, for me at least, the object tells the story. If I’m stuck in a story or stuck with a character, if I insert an object, it can dictate to me where the story is going. I think of it in terms of, if you have a character and you ask, ‘What’s in that character’s pocket?’, or, ‘What’s on that character’s nightstand?’ or, ‘What’s in the backseat of their car?’ and when you put an image in there, or put a detail in there, it illuminates the character or shows you where the story is going, where it came from.

In many of these stories, you explore the individual, private nature of grief, versus the grief we experience as a public. For you, does one feel truer than the other? Why or why not?

I think, in terms of grief, you’re kind of out in the world every day and not understanding the person next to you in line at the grocery store or what they’re going through. You don’t know what grief they’re dealing with, because we go out in the world with our armor on. And so, I am interested in the personal manifestations of grief, and how people deal with it when no one’s looking at them, or if it’s just their family or loved ones around. How do they experience that grief?

There is a line in “Satellites” that struck me: “And they cried, and at some point later they realized they had all been crying for different reasons.” Why was that moment important for your characters to experience?

That’s a turning point in the story, in terms of the fact that they’re all experiencing a similar thing from different angles, and they’re all understanding it from different angles. But then, they have this moment where they all interlap. They’re all crying at the same time, but they are all understanding it differently and coming into it differently. That was interesting to me.

In many of the stories, but especially in “The Sound of a Father,” you explore illusions, though in that particular story, the exploration is literal. Why is it important to explore illusion and reality, particularly in Southern literature?

I was interested in, because the mother had passed, and they’re trying to deal with the grief of that loss, it’s the illusion of looking away from pain, of distracting from it. In magic, they want you to look one way so that they can do the trick. ‘Look at this hand so I can do the trick with this other hand.’ I think a lot of times, that’s how we deal with pain. We’re trying to look away from it in order to deal with it. 

What aspects of your writing do you think are part of the tradition of Southern gothic literature?

I’m not deliberately trying to write any type of story, but looking back at the collection, I do understand. It does fall into that vein sometimes. I don’t lean away from it, and I don’t lean into it. That’s just how it manifests itself. You can’t really get away from your influences, and I’ve read a lot of Southern literature. I can’t point to an exact moment in a story where I thought it was derivative of a specific author, but I do see it. 

Are there any aspects of what the public has come to expect of strong Southern literature that you try to avoid, and why?

I think so. I don’t want to talk bad about any Southern writers or Southern styles of writing, but I like the grit lit stuff. But I tend to not write that way. You know, with a lot of violence and drugs and pickup trucks on the back road with shotguns and drunk driving. All the very gritty Southern stuff does make its way into some of my stories, but I try not to write too many barfights and that kind of thing. I really like it; I know some great writers who write in that vein, but it’s not what I’m interested in writing right now. 

Many of your heroes might be classified by some readers as antiheroes. What is the benefit of making the antihero heroic?

To me, that just feels true to life. No one is completely a hero; no one is perfect. Everyone has their flaws, but we all have that dichotomy. We have the good and the bad. Hopefully, the good prevails in most of these stories. 

The good in each of Siegrist’s characters shines through in every piece, and I’m eager to see what comes next for this writer.

We Imagined It Was Rain
By Andrew Siegrist
Hub City Press
Published October 12, 2021