“Cowboys” is from Susan Steinberg’s story collection, SPECTACLE (Graywolf Press). Steinberg is the author of two previous collections, Hydroplane and The End of Free Love. Her stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, Conjunctions, American Short Fiction, and other journals and magazines, and she has been the recipient of a Pushcart Prize and a National Magazine Award.
Steinberg said this about her story: I worked on “Cowboys” in a year when I was moving from one artist residency to the next. I think there was something about being away from home that enabled me to write the story. It was like I needed to get that far away – from the people in my life, from who I was to them – to take on this situation and voice.
I remember feeling empowered as I was writing the story, like I was writing the most terrifying thing a person could write. I felt like I would get into trouble for writing it, and then I knew I was getting as close as I could to a kind of emotional truth.
Part of the thrill, for me, of writing fiction is not having to care about fact. And not having to compartmentalize personal and invented experience. And not having to reveal which is which. Though recently, I read this story at a university, and after the reading, a student asked me what the inspiration for the story was. And on this night, for some reason – perhaps because I felt like the student really needed to know – I said the story was based on an experience I’d had. I said it was something I couldn’t write. Then it was something I had to write. I think that’s all I said.