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Q&A: Signe Bergstrom on “The House They Built”

Signe Bergstrom


AU Photo_Bergstrom1What inspired you to write “The House They Built?”

I thought a lot about the word break and the notion that mental and/or emotional change often manifests itself in physical form. We break something because we ourselves are already broken. In this story, Randolph destroys the tree house in an attempt to both process the grief and pain he’s in and, in part, to regain a sense of control and mastery over it.


What was your writing process like while crafting it? 

I typically spend a lot of time – days – swimming around inside my head. Once I’ve figured out the puzzle inside my mind, the story tends to come quickly. For better or for worse, I write fairly clean. A first draft takes me longer than the average writer, but when I finish it, my revisions are fairly minimal.

I always read my stories out loud. Not only do I enjoy this part of the process but it also helps me line edit on the spot and finesse the overall flow. You can hear the pauses – the moments of quiet revelation. This is the first story I’ve read aloud to my fiancé, and he and I went back line by line to hone, sometimes word by word. In a sense, this story was the house we built.


What was the hardest part of writing this story?

It was a bit frustrating – I had the story mapped out in my head but needed to steal away moments to write it. I typically like to write for long periods of time during one sitting. This story, however, was claimed in bits – a section at the breakfast table, a section before my son woke, a section on the subway.


The ending to this story is so beautifully open – how long did it take you to find it, and when did you know it had landed just right?

Thank you. I didn’t know what the ending would be per se. (I like to keep parts of the writing process a secret even from myself. Otherwise, I get bored.) I knew that once I got Randolph into the tree house, I’d find it. It would greet me . . . and it did. The last three paragraphs arrived fully formed, more or less.

I liked the idea of the house falling apart, Randolph’s exhale, and the sense of uncertainty because, well, isn’t that life? We don’t know what Juliette’s reaction will be, and it’s very possible that taking apart the tree house won’t bring about the change Randolph so desperately needs and wants. After all, the turkey vulture still carries away its catch; the innocent is prey. It’s up to Randolph and Juliette to rebuild their home, to find foundation again, even at risk of tremendous loss and personal pain.

Read “The House They Built.”