We were planning on only running our weekly Writer Features until we closed submissions for Issue 14 (they closed on April 5), but we have made liars of ourselves. Truth be told, we had too many stories and poems from our back catalogue (and some new ones, too) that we wanted to share with you again.
This week's story is falling under the "new" category. We published "Tobaco Babies" by Daniel Perry in Issue 11 (and you can read it here) and now we're following up with an exclusive-to-this-site story by Daniel, called "99 Per Cent", along with a little chat.
Hey Daniel! Would you please introduce yourself to our readers?
My short story, "Tabaco Babies" (sic), appeared in echolocation 11, and is part of a collection of 16 interlinked stories I completed in 2013, titled Nobody Looks That Young Here and currently seeking a publisher. The book is set in Southwestern Ontario small towns a lot like the ones I grew up in before I left for Western University, and after that, the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto, where I obtained an MA in 2007. I was accepted to the Ph. D. program, but I didn't go through with it – I finally wrote something about that, recently – and in 2009, I began writing fiction and enrolled in Richard Scarsbrook's Creative Writing courses at George Brown College. Since then, my fiction has been included in more than 25 print and online magazines and anthologies, including Exile Literary Quarterly, The Dalhousie Review, Little Fiction and Maple Tree Literary Supplement. I live in Koreatown ("South" Korea: Bloor & Clinton, not North... uh, York), and I'm also a volunteer blogger for the Brockton Writers Series.
Could you tell us a bit about the process of composing this new piece, "99 Per Cent"?
This particular story is very close to a factual truth, based on something I saw that brought to mind the American Motorcycle Association's statement decades ago that "99 per cent" of motorcyclists are law-abiding citizens. (It’s what gave rise to the "1%" patch on outlaw gangs' vests.)
Process-wise, writing itself lost a lot of mystical qualities for me a long time ago; I have a background in journalism. For this piece, the process was linear and maybe a little boring: something happened, I wrote it down, and then I fudged a few details, edited, workshopped, edited again… it might be more interesting to talk about the piece’s motivation.
When re-examining it, I’m reminded of a chapter by Georg Simmel I read in undergrad, in which he says that in rural living, though the geographic distance between people is larger, the psychic distance is quite small – and that in cities, the reverse is true.
Where I grew up, everyone knew everyone, often by the make and model of their vehicle, blowing by on the county road. There were secrets aplenty, but there was very little mystery. By contrast, urban life is full of mystery. Many of us in Toronto – in apartment and condo buildings, particularly – don't know the first thing about our neighbours, nor do we want to. This image of full-patch bikers disappearing into Christie Pits contained a mystery that stuck with me, as did the child on his bicycle possibly aspiring to be like them... whatever they in fact were like.
Can you tell us about what you’re working on currently? Where will we see you next?
"99 Per Cent" is part of Hamburger, a second, smaller group of stories I recently submitted to a Canadian publisher as part of a special program for writers as-yet unpublished in book form. Here's hoping. For now, you can read two more stories from Hamburger that were just published in January: “Rocky Steps,” in The Prague Revue, and "The Locked Out" in BareBack Magazine. A third, "Vaporetto," about a cranky Creative Writing teacher's ill-fated trip to Venice, will be in the next issue of Riddle Fence, and “Five Stages of Sorry” – another story that features bikers, but from my Souwesto book this time – is forthcoming in The Loose Canon.
The next project I’m starting – restarting – looks like it’s going to be a novella.
99 Per Cent
The Electra Glide stops first, all black with batwing and hard bags. The portly rider in black leather steps off and looks into Christie Pits, removing his helmet to reveal a stars-and-stripes bandana. His face is sun-burned pink with a long thick white goatee. He squints in the morning sun then turns his back to me. The gold-on-black bottom rocker reads “CANADA” but I can’t make out the top one or what’s in the centre of the patch, looking up only occasionally from the novel I’m reading at a picnic table under a tree. I wouldn’t want to stare – a Hells puppet club out east uses a similar colour scheme. What or who is he waiting for? Of course I think drug deal. They happen all the time on the park lip, but the characters are usually baggy-clothed and young – very young – with cock-eyed baseball hats and neck tattoos.
It’s a Sunday. This is heavy for a Sunday.
The biker crosses Christie Street’s treed island and brick surface. He enters the Tim Hortons and I eye his ride a while. There’s something less tough about a motorcycle with a trunk, but where else would he carry what he came to sell? A backpack would hide his colours – the colours he’d best be flying on club business – but then again, business seems to be the paper-wrapped breakfast sandwich he’s stuffing through his facial hair as he returns to the park.
He turns his head and so do I when a rumble comes down Bloor and a leaner Softail turns off urgently. Its obese rider wears a neutral expression under thin mustache, blue shades and orange half-helmet; the skid lid matches the paint flames on his fuel tank and fenders. He’s obviously late, guiding the bike to a reckless stop, and with his back to me he climbs off and hangs his helmet on his handlebars, revealing a bald spot on the back of his skull. He pulls his leather vest over his blue T-shirt and the men set off on foot, past tall trees toward the houses north of here to do God knows what.
They’re still gone when next I look up, and in their place a boy of eight has stopped his teal bicycle. Beside the Harleys he balances with his toes on the ground, wearing a yellow T-shirt and black and red shorts. His brown hair needs cutting and curls out the back of a silver helmet. The hogs’ front tires block his back one from view, which makes him looks like an extension: a third wheel, a future. The kid’s mother snaps a photo. I worry that the men will return now and demand her camera to destroy it, maybe toss her on one bike’s back and roar away. I’ve seen Sons of Anarchy. But the next time I look up, the machines are alone again.
It’s been an hour. I mark my page and leave the park. In my apartment and spend sixty more minutes on Google, scanning M.C. sites whose links are purple from the last time I visited. But today I find a new one, a Canada-only club; the patch looks pretty similar. Membership is restricted to military and police veterans, and the jackets are the toughest thing about them.
That’s probably who the men were.