Some of your stories, e.g. “The Jonquils,” “Eddie Doyle Says Life’s Been Good,” and “Keepers,” are written in sections – with headers/titles or with lines of scripture interspersed in the narrative. Did you begin each story with this structure in mind or did it evolve as you wrote?
“The Jonquils” was an intentional attempt to craft a story using multiple points of view. So I used the headers to change gears as the narrators changed.
“Keepers” started as a parody of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” but quickly shifted to a dying young man’s painful soliloquy – and then was rounded out and much-improved when combined (at the good suggestion of an excellent teacher; Dale Heiniger, Columbia College Chicago) with another separate story I had been writing simultaneously about an old man looking back on his life. So that structure definitely evolved.
I added the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount to “Eddie Doyle Says Life’s Been Good” about halfway through the writing of the story. I always had wanted to appropriate the Beatitudes because, for me, these blessings reside in the Literary Pantheon of Great Speeches (along with Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Dr. King’s Dream speech, and Noah S. “Soggy” Sweat, Jr.’s infamous “Whiskey” speech, in which the Mississippi state lawmaker passionately argues both sides of the Prohibition question.)
Plus, the more I wrote about Eddie Doyle, the more I found myself liking him, or, perhaps, feeling sorry for him. So I thought the Beatitudes might make for a provocative counterpoint to poor Eddie’s rather dreary life in Bridgeport.
One great joy of writing short stories is the fact that you, the author, get to play. You conjure a handful of characters, discover their secrets, and shape the events that strike you as most compelling to offer a reader. Along the way, you have the happy opportunity to play with the form of your storytelling – using a header to shift points of view, inserting lyrics or other quoted lines to help pace the storytelling or to deepen a reader’s understanding of a moment, and so on.
For me, it’s like dimming the lamps and lighting candles for a dinner party. Or, adding just a touch of basil to bruschetta. Or, serving tonight’s particular guests the 20-year Tawny port rather than the 10. Different people, different evenings, different parties require different special touches. So does each story.
You might know David Lodge’s excellent book, “The Art of Fiction.” Actually, there are several excellent books with that same title. Lodge’s is the best book on literary forms. I often revisit it for inspiration.
A final thought: I’ve so often used these literary effects (headers, quotes, etc.) that I now worry they’ve become a crutch. “If you were just a better writer,” the Nasty Voice of Self-Defeat whispers wetly into my right ear, “you wouldn’t need such tricks! You could just write.”
Your stories frequently feature characters who are Catholics or lapsed Catholics, and at the same time, some of these stories are sexually frank. I’m curious about how this duality affects some of your readers (and family members) – how have people responded to your stories?