Michael Carter spoke with us about his piece “Doctor Raptor” in Issue Seven!
What works, literature or otherwise, may have inspired this piece? I know I was reminded of The Island of Dr. Moreau a bit while reading it.
I haven’t read The Island of Dr. Moreau, but I’m familiar with the storyline, and yes, this sort of has that feel to it.
The piece, however, was inspired by some of my real life experiences. I grew up with a lot of pets—dogs, cats, birds, fresh and saltwater fish, snakes, lizards, hamsters, rabbits, and probably others I’ve forgotten. I even bred and sold zebra finches when I was a kid. I’ve also been exposed to quite a bit of wildlife hiking, camping, and fishing in the Pacific Northwest and the Northern Rockies. These experiences taught me a deep respect for the animal kingdom and shaped my viewpoints on the environment and conservation.
On the other side of things, as an attorney, I’ve handled cases where people take their beliefs about animals too far. The story is fiction, of course, and not based on any specific case, but rather on the general behavior of criminal defendants and civil litigants I’ve encountered. The hoarding of animals and bungling-up of the legal system to advance agendas, sometimes for decades, is very real thing that happens. And, it’s this ultra-extremism that always makes things go wrong, whether you’re talking about religion, politics, conservation, environmentalism, or anything, really.
So, with this story, I wanted to explore that dichotomy. Most people love animals, and some people take action to protect them and their habitats. I think that’s a good thing. Some people love animals, and they will go too far to advance their beliefs, even so far as to engage in criminal behavior. That’s obviously a bad thing.
Is there something you’d like the readers to take away from your story?
What we already know, but is worth hearing again: fact is stranger than fiction.
What do you find to be the hardest about consolidating and writing stories as flash fiction?
Telling a story that stands on its own, but also suggests something bigger. I think some of the best flash unfolds in the reader’s mind and hints at something else going on behind the scenes, perhaps just a different world, or something that’s left for the reader to imagine or connect the dots. That’s not easy to do.
I also think there’s less room for error in flash. A misplaced sentence or even a few words can ruin a piece or adversely change the story. With longer forms of writing, you can make mistakes and the reader will be more forgiving. Think about it. You might read paragraphs, pages, or even entire chapters of a novel that aren’t well written or you don’t particularly like. But, when you’re finished, you might still consider it a good book. That forgiveness doesn’t come as readily with flash.
Doctor Hundley is a pretty interesting character. He saves animals but he also murders a group of men to save the animals. How did you feel writing his character? What do you think about Doctor Raptor?
Doctor Hundley was easy to write for the reasons I talked about in the first question. As someone who respects animals and their habitats, he’s part me. He’s also part criminal, a segment of the population I’ve worked with for the bulk of my career. Write what you know, I guess.
What do I think of him? He’s a smart guy who tried to do good but chose the wrong way of dealing with things when they didn’t go his way. Ultimately, no matter his best intentions, he became a murderer who did not own up to his actions.
Do you have any previously published pieces you’re particularly proud of?
I’m not a very good judge of my own work, and I feel if I pick favorites, my other stories will have hurt feelings. Going by the feedback I’ve received, here are a few that readers seemed to like. If I had to choose, I’m most fond of “Yetimaker,” published in The Molotov Cocktail’s Flash Monster 2017 issue, and forthcoming in print in the fourth volume of their Prize Winners Anthology. I had a lot of fun writing that one.
“Monster Inside Me” – Coffin Bell
“Homecoming” – Memoir Mixtapes
“My Interview for the People Removal Position” – The Cabinet of Heed
“Journey to the Hole in the Sky” – Moonchild Magazine
“Yetimaker” – The Molotov Cocktail
“Bannack, Montana” – Reflex Fiction
“Guillotine Grabber” – Occulum