from Measuring Time: “450 Miles to Minot”

This is the opening piece in my forthcoming Measuring Time & Other Stories (out this fall from Wiseblood Books). Minot, North Dakota, as the title indicates, is important to the narrative, with the ending scene depicting the protagonist, Hannah, arriving in “The Magic City,” as it’s known. (The story was originally titled “To the Magic City.)

The story’s timeline is the most intricate of any one in the book. There’s a braided narrative with one thread following scenes from the “current” day. Those sections are interrupted with flashback scenes featuring the protagonist and antagonist. The flashback scenes begin with the oldest point in time and continue forward toward the “current” day.

This braided structure was present even in the first draft, and while I can’t say for certain, I suspect the structure was influenced by one of my favorite stories: “The Things They Carried,” by Tim O’Brien. I regularly teach that story in my prose creative-writing class, and I am regularly amazed by how O’Brien has assembled the narrative.

In older versions of “450 Miles to Minot,” the protagonist alludes to another O’Brien work: “On the Rainy River.” There is a parallel between what Hannah is doing and the narrator of the latter O’Brien piece, but ultimately I judged the literary allusions as unnecessary to the story, so I removed them.

The twelve pieces in the collection are interconnected, and this first story introduces several characters who appear later, some as primary characters, some as secondary characters. In addition, several motifs in the book are also established, motifs I won’t disclose here. Ultimately, I view “450 Miles to Minot” as somewhat analogous to an overture in music.



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