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Q&A with C.C. Apap, writer of "Bed and Breakfast"

Our fiction team this week is featuring a new short fiction story by C.C. Apap, called "Bed and Breakfast". Our team loved the story, which is available in full here.

C.C. Apap grew up in the kind of Detroit suburb that had a functioning farm just over the back fence. His writing has been featured or is forthcoming in Belt Magazine, Alba, The Thimble Literary Magazine, Roi Fainéant, The Hooghly Review, and Ghost City Review.

Recently Ally Keegan, one of The Wild Umbrella's fiction editors, spoke with the writer about his new story, his writing process, and what the pandemic was like for him as a writer. This is a shortened version of their conversation.

Ally Keegan: I really loved this story. I’d love to know where the story starts. How far back does it go and how long had you been working on it?

C.C. Apap: Well, there’s two parts of it. Many of my stories begin with some experience I have, some funny story, some anecdote, and I often sit back and think, “what if we had done something a little differently?” So in this particular story, the event that inspired it happened twenty-seven years ago or thereabouts, way before Airbnb existed. My wife and I were early in our relationship and we decided we were going to have a wonderful romantic getaway. We live in metro Detroit, and for those that don’t know, Stratford, Ontario, is about a 2.5-3 hour drive from Detroit, and they have this wonderful Shakespeare festival. So we thought we’d go see plays and make a romantic week of it. Stratford at that time didn’t have an extensive website like they do today, but they did have a brochure they’d send out with all these gorgeous photographs of all the places you could stay. All the photographs were of these 100-year-old homes, Victorian-era homes, with gazebos and beautiful covered porches. As we drove through Stratford past all these gorgeous Victorian homes, and got further and further into what was clearly tracked housing, we had this realization that anyone could say they were a B&B in Stratford and use their spare room as a money-maker. We hadn’t even imagined this was a possibility, but I remember the two of us sitting outside a duplex thinking, “Oh, no.”

We ended up eating the cost of the home and going and finding somewhere else to stay and had a great weekend anyway, because it was too mortifying to imagine being in someone else’s house in that way in the late 90s. But for me there’s always this question of what it was actually like in the home.

So about six years ago now, I was transitioning from being a full-time scholar and being on the job market, and really feeling like I didn’t want to upend my entire family and move where we were, and seek out tenure-track jobs in American universities. I’ve always wanted to try fiction, and do creative writing, and that story was the kernel, where I said, "Why don’t I try to spin something out of that?"

So that’s really when I started writing it. I don’t think I finished a passable first draft until the pandemic arrived and I had huge swaths of time, and I could actually focus on the writing a little bit. So, that’s when I sat down and conceived of the full shape of the story as it exists now.

Ally Keegan: I definitely relate to that, writing a bit what you know. It’s always interesting to hear other writers telling stories like that. You mentioned the pandemic giving you a chance to write…a lot of people said they had lots more space and time to explore creative passions. How was the pandemic for you as a writer?

C.C. Apap: As a writer, it was phenomenal. I’m a morning writer. I get up, even during the school year when I don’t have as much time in my day-to-day life to write, I’ll get up and write a poem, or something, just to get it on the page, to practice, to work those mental muscles out.

So for the pandemic to come along, and literally to be able to get up at the normal time when I get up, and have four or five hours...I didn't have to wake anyone up, get anyone to school…it was incredibly freeing. It was an incredibly productive summer, when I could produce story after story. That was a product of having the time and space to think through it.

Ally Keegan: You mentioned being long-winded sometimes, restrained in other times. Do you find that you fall naturally on one side or the other of that?

C.C. Apap: As you might be able to tell from my answers here, I tend toward the long-winded. As my colleague said, “You have such an incredible eye for detail, but you need to pull it back and find the one detail that matters.” That was incredibly helpful with "Bed and Breakfast", because there were mornings where I wanted to flesh out Alex and Ryan’s entire relationship and what led them to this bed-and-breakfast in the first place, and the more I did that the more the story sprawled into backstory and into broader details and got away from the emotional core of the story. So it was great for him to say to cut it down, get it down to 5,000 words, then pull it back even further than that. The more I did that the more I could play with it, change the beginning to pull the reader in from the get-go. I have a tendency to meander my way into a story, and I think the challenge with that is that you want to get your reader engaged right away, so that was something I was able to practice with "Bed and Breakfast".

Ally Keegan: What does your writing and editing process look like? Do you have a set process? When do you ask other people for advice?

C.C. Apap: I’ve come to fiction writing later in my career. I took undergraduate creative writing workshops, but by the time I sat down to write it had been twenty years since I had workshopped a piece. So for me the initial joy was just pushing through and asking myself, “Can I finish a fully formed draft that seems coherent that does what I want it to do?” Normally what I do is finish a draft and let it sit for a while, and then come back to it – obviously not with fresh eyes but with a different intent, to ask myself about what are the necessary parts of the story. What are the parts where I indulged in my desire to figure out everything I needed to know about these characters, and what the reader needs to know. It’s only after I get through the second run-through when I hand it off to someone…so then I have some outside voices.

Ally Keegan: I like what you said earlier about trying to find the “one detail” or the emotional core of the story. That’s part of what really works about the story. There are little things that really stuck out to me. The last line – “She wished that she had asked her husband for a hot cocoa.”– I love that. That’s perfect, it really sums up how she sees her life. How do you decide what makes it into the story?

C.C. Apap: Sometimes I think it’s fundamentally idiosyncratic. For me it’s that edict to grasp at something that is true, or that feels true to me. For Alex to have this moment at the end where she’s recognizing the shape of her life…for me, it felt exactly right that she would lean into a moment where she thinks, “Gosh, maybe I should have asked for this one thing.” It’s also representative of this mundane day-to-day life that she has kind of resigned herself to.

Ally Keegan: When you’re creating characters, do you work on the character work before you start writing, or as you go along?

C.C. Apap: I think in some ways the core perspective of any story doesn’t usually change a whole lot for me. Unless I have a realization mid-story that I haven’t focused on a character, maybe I need to tell the story from another character’s perspective. But mostly the story emerges out of that perspective. So for Alex especially, her character emerged from the details of someone who both enjoyed the abandon of being in someone else’s house, but didn’t really want to engage with people. She didn’t want that engagement that came with being in an apartment, in the extra room of an occupied home. For me I tried to explore the  kinds of things Alex would focus on if one was trying to avoid human contact, like the water stain on the ceiling. Those things that can occupy your attention without having to focus on another person. In other stories I’ve written it’s been a different challenge, it’s been a first-person story trying to find their voice…so finding that voice is always the first step in finding the character. If I do it right, the story emerges. If not, the story usually gets tabled and I come back to it in a few years and work it from a different perspective.


Writer C.C. Apap
C.C. Apap

C.C. Apap grew up in the kind of Detroit suburb that had a functioning farm just over the back fence. His writing has been featured or is forthcoming in Belt Magazine, Alba, The Thimble Literary Magazine, Roi Fainéant, The Hooghly Review, and Ghost City Review.

Ally Keegan

Ally Keegan is twenty-three years old and lives in Cork. She studied English at University College Cork before going on to do a masters in Creative Writing in Trinity College Dublin. Ally primarily writes short stories but has ideas of a novel for the hopefully-not-too-distant future. As well as reading and writing, she enjoys listening to music, rewatching the same four TV shows and drinking way too much tea and coffee.


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