Updated: Jul 19
By Ziyi Yan and Stephen Wunderli
Stephen Wunderli is our Issue 2 featured contributor in prose for his story, "A Real Fourth of July." This piece is, in turn, funny, wry, absurd, sincere, and haunting. It is January in the beginning of the story, and Stephen's characters are building a Fourth of July float, choosing to freeze rather than reach for another sweater. Even as the narrator refuses to talk about politics, he lays sacrifice upon sacrifice at the altar of patriotism– or perhaps at its facsimile. "A Real Fourth of July" shows us the American Dream, dutifully avoided in conversation and violently catapulted from Betsy Ross' bosom stars. More importantly, it shows us the low hum of humanity, nestled beneath endless layers of nonchalance, absurdity, and decay. Set in ambiguously rural America, "A Real Fourth of July" demonstrates that, even in death, life trods on.
Stephen Wunderli is a writer living in Utah. He has published children's books with Henry Holt, as well as short stories with The Kalahari Review and Grubb Street Literary Magazine. You can read his commentary on his work below!
Stephen's commentary on "A Real Fourth of July"
Every story I finish is different from the version of it that I set out to write. I start with characters that I like– that have a history, and whose complications define them. Getting these characters on the page and following them around is what produces the story. Often, in my stories, meaning is revealed through irony. In the past, I would finish stories, then revise. Now, I revise as I go– going back and forth, giving shape to the environment, then changing my characters by adding a background. I research throughout my writing process and then I find little bits of meaning in words or history for the final strokes– like adding the Tootsie Roll detail from the battle of Chosin. These are rewards for readers, because I think readers should be thanked for spending time with a story. For me, every story is about redemption. We find it in different ways, but when we discover meaning, we find the redemption we are looking for.
As for the shape of a story, I like for the narrative to be rich but not prescriptive. I want readers to pause in a forest of sentences and see things in a different way. I think that voice drives every story: it keeps some things hidden while portraying other things in their apparent obviousness. I also find a lot of truth in humor– it is the counterbalance to despair. Somewhere between the two, I think we find the truth about ourselves.
I submitted the Dawn Review for its varied voices. Sitting down with a collection of diverse stories is like attending a dinner party with new friends! When I have enough stories in print, I hope to publish a collection. Until then, I keep wandering into cafes and parade routes, onto farms, and into the woods, looking for characters who have a story to tell.