Friday, November 16, 2007

Inside the Author's Anthology

The Jesse Stuart Foundation was nice enough to publish my short story "Rabbit Blood" in their anthology "New Growth: Recent Kentucky Writing." When I received my contributor copies this week I was surprised to see that they also included discussion questions about my story for the readers. In the spirit of Kurt Vonnegut writing a term paper about Kurt Vonnegut in the 80s classic "Back To School" I thought it might be fun to go ahead and answer these questions myself. I am a little hesitant however, as in the film Vonnegut's paper received an F and the professor commented "You obviously know nothing about Kurt Vonnegut." Regardless, here it goes. The questions below are the actual questions which appear in the anthology.

Question 1: An initiation story is one that involves a character (usually a young one) in a potentially maturing situation. Sometimes a character gains an insight; sometimes, not. Do you think the young narrator of Rabbit Blood learns anything about life by the story's end? Does he mature in any way?

Answer: In my opinion by the end of the story the young protagonist has learned that his feelings for his older love interest were childish and could never be shared due to a combination life issues such as the gap in their age, their current stations in life, and other factors. This is much the same resolution we find in other initiation stories such as most notably James Joyce's "Araby," although to compare this story to "Araby" would be an injustice.

Question 2: Do you think your understanding of this story would be different if it were in third person rather than by the character himself? How?

Answer: Writing in the third person has advantages and disadvantages. The advantages come in the ability to broadly explore the world of the story and the lives of secondary characters. The disadvantages include limiting the intimacy between the reader and the protagonist in addition to lessening insight into the lead character's worldview. Had this story been written in third person readers would have been able to learn more about the world in which the story takes place as well as the lives of the secondary characters, but this choice would drastically change the story's direction and limit the ownership of the story's main character.

Question 3: Dramatic irony occurs when the reader knows more than a character or narrator. What effect does your knowing things about the situation (e.g., Lucky's "medicine" is some type of illegal drug) that escape the narrator have on your interpretation of the story?

Answer: As a reader I know much more about the story than the young narrator and it is this knowledge that allows me sympathize with his struggle. Had he understood more about the world around him it would have raised questions about what age he truly was. As an author, I attempt to portray characters as truly as I can. One of the mistakes authors make when writing about young characters is to construct them as unusually smart and perceptive for their age.

Question 4: Hampton claims that his story "is composed of several scraps of memory left from my childhood." Do you think creating fiction by weaving memories from different events and real-life characters would be difficult? Why?

Answer: I said that? Well it's true. Most writers I know are hopelessly sentimental in one aspect or another. Stories are largely created from things overhead, events half-remembered, and recollections of people long gone that have been softened by the passage of time. I don't think it's difficult at all as it's the only way I know how to write. It would be much harder for me to write a story about Texas for example if I hadn't driven across it once in the past. In my opinion it would be much harder to create a story out of thin air and people it with characters whose attributes and habits I hadn't lifted from life. One of the most important skills you can gain as a writer is the ability to listen, watch, and steal liberally at every turn.

Again these are just the answers I have as the author of the story. Yours as a reader might be different, and neither of us are definitively correct in the end. If you read my story in the anthology and enjoy it, that's enough.

Monday, November 12, 2007

My Reading at The Rud

This past Friday I gave my first reading in a year at The Rudyard Kipling in Louisville. It was a wonderful night.

The venue itself was the perfect setting for intimate art events. The Rudyard Kipling is a small nondescript restaurant and bar in historic downtown Louisville. The performance space upstairs consisted of a large wooden room with an elevated stage surrounded by tables.

Danny Flannigan opened the show, and was wonderful. He was a powerful singer songwriter who shared songs about hope, life, growing older and about his days working on construction sites. Downstairs after his set he confessed that the Rud was one of his top three gigs of the year.

I was invited as part of the InKy Reading Series, and that Friday was dedicated to fiction writers. Stephen George of Louisville's The Leo read first, I read second, and the last author of the night was Brian Leung closed the night.

Stephen shared a short story, and Brian read two prose poems in addition to the short first chapter of his novel "Lost Men." I read three short stories , two of which had originally appeared in The Southeast Review.

Though there weren't as many people there as I had hoped it was a wonderful time and I would like to thank all of you who came to see me.

Monday, November 05, 2007

New Growth: Recent Kentucky Writing

The Jesse Stuart recently published the anthology New Growth: Recent Kentucky Writing which features my short story "Rabbit Blood." If you are interested in picking up a copy follow this link.

Reading at the Rudyard Kipling

This Friday (November 9th) I will be reading at The Rudyard Kipling in Louisville as part of the InKY Reading Series along with authors Stephen George and Brian Leung. If you are in the ville that day stop by and buy me a drink. I'll need it.

One Hour Before Thirty

In less than an hour, and possibly by the time I finish this post, I will be thirty years old. It's a grim reality and one I am still attempting to reconcile.

Thirty is said to be the old age of youth. In the Japanese culture thirty is considered the age in which one truly becomes a man. As I draw nearer by the minute to this milestone I feel less adult than ever before.

The evidence of my age is mounting however. I've done things I never dreamed of doing when I was younger. I have been married now for seven years. I have a child. I also work as a professor and it seems ever quarter I am confused by how young my students seem to be. This should all stand as evidence that I am no longer young, but every time proof of my progression toward the grave presents itself I counter in my mind with proof to the contrary.

For example I spend each night of my life watching cartoons populated by sophisticated talking dogs and megalomaniacal milkshakes. I have a myspace page as well as one on facebook. My tastes are helplessly teenage; ragged jeans, Goodwill shirts, albums by bands no one has heard of.

But since my birthday is hurtling through time toward me I have made plans. Tomorrow I will celebrate the death of my twenties with my own personal wake. I will drink the same bourbon I drank in college, one with a quality so low referring to it as "cheap" would be an exercise in looking on the bright side. I will watch reruns of The Ben Stiller Show (when I could stomach Ben Stiller), Mr. Show (one of the best and strangest sketch shows ever), Kids in the Hall (ditto), and Saturday Night Live from the early nineties (a cast which for my money surpasses the original 1975 cast). I will listen to Soul Asylum (Grave Dancers Union), Nirvana (Bleach), Pearl Jam (Ten), and Pontius Copilot (my favorite evaporating band from the past). I will wear a concert shirt from the bottom of my closet, and read from On The Road.

I will pretend to be young. The next day, I will learn how to be an adult.