The Story Behind “Benny’s Bed” by Kate Wisel

Kate-Wisel-HeadshotToday’s post is written by Kate Wisel. We published her short story “Benny’s Bed” in our Spring 2015 issue. 

Benny’s Bed” was born out of a story a friend told at 3 a.m. as we were falling asleep in my college living room. In short, when she was in high school, her friend’s boyfriend died of a drug overdose. The night of his funeral, the two of them slept in his bed.

I had a million questions for my friend, who I thought I knew everything about. Did her friend know her boyfriend was using before he died? What was he using? Did her parents know she was sleeping over? What was their relationship like? How did this happen?

But my friend didn’t elaborate. It was just something that happened. They slept in his bed. She talked about how strange it was but that it felt like the only thing to do.

I never stopped thinking about this story. It was like an itch on the un-scratchable part of my back. I didn’t understand it. I badly wanted to understand it. In some unconscious way, I thought I did understand it.

A year later, I went to a writing workshop in New Hampshire called Sonad Glen Brook. One night, my writing instructor, Adam Stumacher, read a story he wrote about a girl who died after a botched plastic surgery was performed illegally in Framingham. As the story went on, the interior storyline became about an immigrant family desperate to own their own home, that the money from these surgeries was a means towards this lifelong dream.

The next day at breakfast, I asked Adam how he conjured the story. He said he had read about it in the newspaper, a plastic surgery gone wrong. To him, writing the story was a way of trying to understand what had happened.

Something clicked. I thought stories had to come solely from myself. I realized an imagination is a more collective concept; that ideas can come from places outside my own experience. I started looking for entry points into stories, things that struck me like newspaper headlines, a bike-theft I witnessed on Comm. Ave, even gossip. Writing “Benny’s Bed” was a way of trying to understand this particular grief that had fascinated and stuck with me.

I’m working on a linked short-story collection in-progress called GirldomRaffa is a leading character, and it was revelatory to use this incident as a way to look into her past from her own point of view. In another story, Raffa’s older and is viewed from the eyes of her friend Serena. She seemingly moved on from Benny’s death, but is wary of relationships with men. She wants badly to have a family of her own and creates this kind of “girl kingdom” to protect herself from romance she perceives as dangerous.

Now when I write stories about my characters, I’m interested in the events that shape them as people. Being nosy is a horrible trait in a person but an asset as a writer. I’ve learned to follow my curiosity, what I can’t believe, what obsesses me.

About the Author

Kate Wisel’s fiction has appeared in The Drum, Bartleby Snopes, Corium Magazine, Mad Hatters’ Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Fiction Southeast, Compose Journal, and her poetry in The Altar, Contemporary American Voices, Philadelphia Stories as “Editor’s Choice,” Neon Magazine where she was nominated for The Forward Prize, and on Boston’s Red Line subway as winner of the “Poetry on the T” contest. She was awarded the Keach prize at the University of Massachusetts Boston and earned a scholarship to the Wesleyan Writers Conference. She will be a fiction MFA candidate at Columbia College Chicago in the fall.

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