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« LBC Podcast #3: Edward Falco | Main | Endings and Openings »

Feb 06, 2006

Comments

Dan Wickett

Excellent beginning gentlemen (and one can barely tell what level of imbibing has occured to this point!) - I look forward to reading your views on other individual stories - I think you nailed these two.

Ed Falco

Thanks, Scott and Ed, for the good, liquor-fueled discussion of my stories. A couple of things come to mind after reading your back-and-forth on “The Instruments of Peace.” In my understanding of the story, its important that Deegan, the father and central character, comes out of a violent world. His father was a mean drunk, his sister was raped at age sixteen, and not long after that he was beaten half to death by two hooded guys wielding two-by-fours. While he was in the hospital recovering, he tells us that “his heart was full of murder,” and he fell into constant bloody reveries of revenge, and it was because of that attack and his reaction to it that he wound up upstate in the first place, trying to make a decent life, a life where he could escape from that kind of violence. So, for me, this story is about Deegan, about whether its possible for him to escape the violence around him and in his own heart. And I hope it opens up into some bigger questions, too. The title of the story comes from St Francis’s prayer: “Lord, let us be the instruments of thy peace.” The story ends with a view of the peaceful mountains and farm, and Deegan covered in blood. So what exactly does it mean in this world to be the instrument of God’s peace?

At any rate, I know these are some of the questions that engaged me while I was writing this story.

ed

Heya Ed, thanks for stopping by!

Actually, it's interesting that you mention the "violent world" background. Because, in hindsight, now that you've mentioned it, that very carefully placed detail now comes clearly into perspective. And yet you've embedded it in a way in which it sticks to the subconscious and didn't entirely come to the forefront of my memory of the story. (I can't speak for Scott, but I'm curious if he feels the same way.) And I suppose this is a case where I, the reader, have been caught quite ungracefully with my pants down and should definitely read the story again. :)

This may be a topic that you might want to get at during your guest appearance, but since there are many of these quiet details embedded in your stories (and even your first sentences!), I'm wondering if you might comment on the subconscious mechanism at work. To what extent are your stories intended as psychological portraits to be unpuzzled by the reader?

Scott

Ed C.,

I'm with you on this. Ed F. is correct in that Deegan's history is an important element of this story and it's something that we neglected to include in our discussion. You're correct that Ed F.'s stories often include these sorts of details--these things that could be glossed over but are actually very important to understanding the plot and the characters.

We've already come to it once, and I think this is one of the points that we'll come to time and time again in this week's discussion: Ed F.'s stories reward careful reading. Ed F. is a writer who writes with a great deal of subtlety and I think that anyone who investigates his stories closely will find their investigations well-rewarded.

Ed Falco

Thanks, Scott. I hope it goes without saying that I very much appreciate your attention to my stories. I’m grateful to have good readers thinking about my fiction.

About the use of details in my stories . . . I’m often surprised by the ways the details in my stories connect and echo and interact. I was surprised just this morning, for instance, when thinking about the violent history of Deegan to notice the connection between the way he was beaten by two thugs with two-by-fours, and the way the two thugs who show up later in the story are kicked and stomped to death. Not only did I not intend to create a kind of thematic puzzle in which the two thugs that beat him are paired with the two thugs who get beaten, I didn’t even notice it until now, many years after I wrote the story. But I’m not surprised. I build stories little by little, writing a paragraph or a page one day, letting it sit 24 hours, then coming back the next day and adding to it. So an early detail of characterization, of place and situation, is there in the back of mind influencing and in a way helping to generate the following details. In the best short stories all the pieces fit together. There’s nothing extraneous. And so of course I’m always shooting for that.

Have you seen next Sunday’s Time’s Book Review yet? There’s a rave review of Deborah Eisenberg’s new story collection. I’m a big fan of Eisenberg and so was happy to read the review. But Ben Marcus (of the Harper’s piece fame) feels compelled to tell us in the first sentence of the review that “in the right hands, the short story can be a legitimate art form . . . .” Wow. What a relief. I was worried about that.

Ed

Scott

Ed F.,

Not to get too far off-topic, but I, for one, am quite glad Marcus wrote that. I was getting a little worried about the future of the form . . .

ed

Scott: Agreed with your point about reading the text closely. But I think my general point had more to do with literary ambiguity, how much of this is tied into the reader's experience, and, if Ed F. would like to answer, how much he might be conscious of constructing a reader's perception, which Ed F. has kindly insinuated above. The question being to Ed: To what extent are you layering from instinct and to what extent are you "designing" the reader's expectation?

Here's what I'm getting at: you know the old Anchor Buggy young girl/old woman illusion? Well, some readers reading "The Instruments of Peace" are likely to see the old woman (Deegan the father trying to protect his daughter and this drifter). Some readers will see the young girl (Deegan escaping a violent world). Do you write for both old woman and young girl readers? Or do you write for one reader?

I'm wondering, Ed, aside from letting what you've written sit for some time, what routines do you have in place to allow for a freeform ambiguity so that the story doesn't become lifeless while fulfilling the concrete needs of sucking the reader in? Or, if you'll forgive me a bizarre metaphor, is your particular method really a matter of letting it pour out slowly like a bottle of catsup? Or putting it another way: You know exactly where the catsup should land on the bun or in the fries and, because you are a connoisseur, it's in your best interest, both instinctively and craftwise, to wait?

ed

As for Marcus, I think Twain said it best about exaggerated reports. :)

Ed Falco

Ed C: This question of my authorial relationship to the effects achieved by a story or to the themes explored is similar to the question about the use of details. I don’t (and I think I’m like most other writers in this) place a detail here and another detail there in an attempt to subtly suggest meaning, and I don’t arrange events in a story to get at a theme. Rather, I begin with a character and a situation that interests me, and then I both follow and shape the story simultaneously. I follow it in the sense that every time I give a character some attribute or a situation some element of conflict the story is moved in one direction or another. It has to go in that direction and so I’m mostly following. If my character is angry, then he has to do angry things––and that pushes the story. If I’ve created a situation in which my angry character owes someone money––then he has to pay or not pay and there have to be consequences. Of course, I’m also inventing the details and the situation, so I’m also shaping. The shaping and the following happen simultaneously and in ways that are so complex most writers are simply not conscious of everything that’s going on in the act of writing. They’re discovering their story in the act of writing it—and they continue to discover the story even after it’s finished, when they reread it and continue to think about it. It is because the act of writing is so complex that the unconscious plays such an important role. The writer’s vision, voice, character, knowledge or lack of knowledge, experience or lack of experience, desires, fears, beliefs, politics––it’s all revealed to some extent in the act of writing. (And sometimes the writer is the last to know what he or she is revealing.) In the end, these are really very complex questions about the relationship of the author to the story. I can tell you most honestly that it feels to me like a combination of shaping and following, and that if my own stories didn’t continue to surprise and inform me, I’m sure I would have quit writing a long time ago.

Dan Wickett

Interesting idea Ed, similar thoughts (but in a more detailed explanation) as those posed by Percival Everett in an interview he was kind enough to do two years ago:

Dan:

In his book on writing ("Narrative Design"), Madison Smartt Bell uses your story, "Hear That Long Train Moan." Have you read his comments and notes, and if
so, what is your assessment of them?

Percival:

Yes. Madison's a smart guy. I didn't mean half of what he attributes to me, but I'll claim it.

Terri Saul

This is fascinating, the dialog between all of you, and with the writer himself! I especially like the message about the story surprising the writer, wrapping itself up/unwrapping itself mysteriously.

Thanks guys,
Terri

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