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.

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