Patrick Lenton loves superheroes. And look, anyone who can write such a brilliant collection of shorts kind of is a superhero. It seems only fair, then, that we feature A Man Made Entirely of Bats.
ANNA: What do you love about writing tiny fiction?
PATRICK: With things that are a bit more in the comedic realm, sometimes you can find a much stronger absurd moment if it’s just that and doesn’t have all the padding around it. I used to try to write things for more serious literary magazines, and I was always like, what I really want to do is describe how funny it was when this cat was vomiting, but how do I fit that into a story? So I would set it in WWII or something and try to make it all about how terrible war is. Then I thought, no, why don’t I just write about the cat vomiting?
And I also think it’s a challenge. As much as I found myself writing quite naturally in a shorter form, I suddenly rethought how flabby my sentences were. I was trying to keep each story under 300 words for this book for a while, and it was fun to see what was making the cut and what wasn’t.
The train carriage carrying all the TNT was picking up speed towards the crowded terminal where the orphans had gathered for their yearly ‘Orphans Day Out’ initiative. Somewhere, Wonder Woman could hear cackling from the villain who’d orchestrated this monstrosity – but she couldn’t worry about him, she had to stop this locomotion of doom.
I wonder why the dinosaurs actually died out? thought Wonder Woman, before shaking the thought away so she could focus on the task at hand. If she could find somewhere to tie her magic lasso to, maybe she could slow the carriage down.
Why birds? she wondered, tying one end of the shimmering golden rope to the speeding train.
Why do dogs look so amazing when they run? she pondered, flying to a metal bridge and anchoring the other end of the rope to it.
She was so close now, she could see all the orphans, miniature ponies and clowns. Being magic, the rope held, but the bridge bent and snapped, sending the train full of explosives careening into the terminal, where it exploded in a huge mushroom of fire and noise.
Why is death so beautiful? Wonder Woman wondered.
ANNA: How is a short story different?
PATRICK: It’s about having a larger build, and I think you up the stakes. You get to see a real change from one stake to another and have the bigger payoff. And also maybe an expansion of ideas. There’s a couple of stories in this collection which are bordering on more serious topics, because I needed that space to talk through those ideas. There is one bit of flash fiction where I think I tried to be serious, so we’ll see if it works.
It was on his deathbed that his wife of sixty years told him she had a confession. She told him that she had never loved him and that that was not the worst of it. He probably would have been OK with that, but there were lots of layers to this confession.
She told him she’d been trained as a secret Russian agent, coached to seduce and marry certain members of government that the agency thought they could glean secrets from.
But that wasn’t it, she said, clearly relishing the end of six decades of subterfuge. She said she’d been born and raised in Chernobyl, so was in fact lightly irradiated. Every night when she curled up against him, she was in fact sterilising him and causing the many cancers that surely riddled his body.
She laughed, and said, ‘Long live the USSR!’ and then shot herself.
He smiled, got out of bed and stretched; glad he’d secretly replaced all his internal organs with bits of lead.
ANNA: Which is your favourite character in this collection?
PATRICK: I really like the character of Justin Bieber that I wrote, because he’s really weird. And now whenever I see him on television, I feel like he’s slowly morphing into my interpretation of him. When I wrote it he was pre-teen wholesome JB, and now he’s drunk driving and tattooed. Maybe one day I’ll actually look at him and think maybe I just saw the future.
At first you think this guy isn’t going to be a huge asset to the mutant superhero team. I mean, his mutant power is just being hairless. What kind of advantage is that? Slightly less wind resistance? Not much chance of getting shocked by static electricity? But then you realise how fucking cool he is in a crisis, the way he just looks at the world like he owns it. And he’s resourceful, able to get into places you swear were completely locked up. And damn, he sure is athletic, able to jump incredible distances and maintain perfect balance.
Before you know it, he’s in line to become the new superhero team captain, even though you’ve been there longer and you have super strength and optic blasts for god’s sake. You shouldn’t even be intimidated by him, but you find yourself edging around him when you’re walking through rooms or when he’s sitting on the other end of the couch. When you see him in the middle of the night, sitting in your window, eyes glowing an unearthly green, you have to remind yourself he’s just one of those goddamn hairless cats, nothing to worry about.
ANNA: Are YOU a superhero? If not, how do you know so much about them?
PATRICK: I’m definitely not. I think if I did have a mild superpower it would be something like being really good at dusting or vacuuming. I always think if I walked up to Professor Xavier and said I’d like to join the superhero team, he’d ask me what I could offer and I’d say, “Your carpets are awful. Or maybe I could really get in on the dishwashing.” I’ve always read heaps of comics. It’s not a hipster homage to superheroes, it’s a very genuine one. I think that they have been brought more into the mainstream lately. I even heard there was a vigilante in inner Sydney. I didn’t see a picture of him; I don’t think he wore a cape. But I haven’t heard of him since, so he probably got bored of it.
A Man Made Entirely of Bats comes out on March 1st, but if you buy it during the pre-order offer your copy will be autographed with a personalised message (and cheaper)!
Patrick Lenton is a playwright, fiction writer and blogger at The Spontaneity Review. He was a Finalist in the 2013 SOYA Awards and shortlisted for the Scribe Nonfiction Prize 2015. He writes "The Rory Gilmore Reading Challenge" for Going Down Swinging. He edited The Sturgeon General. He works as a Digital Marketer for Momentum Books. He has a collection called ‘A Man Made Entirely of Bats’ coming out in 2015. He tweets @patricklenton.
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