Weird Tales: Robert Davies on The Winged Man

Writer: Robert Davies
Weird Tales Story: Bruise for Bruise (Issue # TBA 2008)
Writer Bio: Robert Davies writes things his mother doesn’t like to read. He lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with his high-school sweetheart Sara, two cats Lilith and Tiamat, and a lot of books. His favorite Horseman is Pestilence.


“Why does the main character have wings?”

Any writer who dabbles in fantastic fiction will be asked such a question at some point in life, usually in one of those soul-wrenching critique circles in Fiction Writing 101, or by a mother wondering if all those tuition checks were ground up and smoked in some strange gilded hookah.

“I’m a little confused…”

The problem for me is that I just don’t know. He showed up, took off his ratty coat, and had a pair of wings. I don’t set out to write a story about a man with wings, or a vengeful corpse, an intelligent plant, a forgetful god, a time machine that actually works the way it is supposed to, a desperate monkey with a cunning plan. I honestly start with best of intentions, having made all obeisances before the altar of Mimesis, and then it all seems to go kerfuffle.

The first stories I remember writing in grade school concerned the nefarious plans of the evil Dr. Nedemeir and his Guano Ray. I don’t remember anything about the hero or the damsel in distress, only that they never succeeded and the Guano Ray would go off at the end. To this day, the world is threatened with annihilation. By guano. And there is nothing I can do to change that. Honest. It’s not my fault.

The professor shakes his head and says, “You’d be a great writer if you ever decide to write about real people.” So I try to keep a straight face and say things like, “The mimetic privileges a view of reality that is limiting and often false, while the fantastic engenders an environment that allows for greater truths to be revealed.”

But the truth for me is simpler. It is cool to write about monkeys, demons, and robots, to have ancient, unknowable aliens pulling hidden strings and stealing pocket change, to have a crippled angel stop and ask for directions on a busy street. Very cool.

Stories about angst-ridden college students driving to Maine to discover some essential truth about themselves bore me. Now, if some Aztec godling laid eggs in the glove compartment, my ears might perk up. If they run over a cybernetic monkey, then I start to care. I don’t know why. It’s just in the wiring.

I prefer to take reality and add some splashes of hot sauce.

Of course, all of this doesn’t answer the “why.”

The winged man won’t tell me.


  1. says

    i just finished reading Russell Hoban’s Amaryllis Night and Day. i found myself asking a similar question: ‘why is this character American?’ it’s probably just me, but i found this one fact more dislocating than any of the other weirdness in that book.

    i suppose some writers will know the answers better than others; i’m only glad it isn’t always your obligation to explain these things to the reader, and it’s your prerogative to be mysterious.

  2. says

    I couldn’t agree more. When I write, the story has to be just wild enough to grab my attention, but just coherent enough to not seem silly. Why does the man have wings? Because he was born that way. Because whatever fantastic loops of DNA make up his being expressed wings. All the angsty college students and middle class suburbanites going through divorces and young women coming of age in patriarchal settings could have wings too, but the genes are recessive with them.