Story of a Story - Kate Blackwell's post on Mythical Books

Where do writers get their ideas? What makes a good story? Kate Blackwell writes about writing, published on Mythical Books, June 15th. You can read the original post here. 

vampire

                                                              STORY OF A STORY 
                                                                 Kate Blackwell

Vampires, Hobbits, buried giants, girls who kill by dreaming, or the guy with acne scars sitting in a booth in a King’s Family Restaurant, talking to a young girl. What is he saying? Who are they? Why are they here? You open your laptop. You begin to write.

What draws writers to their subjects? 

Grace Paley: “Almost every story is an argument of some kind. You write it because you do not know something, you write what you do not know about, otherwise you would not bother to write.” 

Fantasy, the paranormal, what we call realism—it makes no difference; the strange and the ordinary must contain mysteries in order to be written about. Forget the old aphorism “write what you know.” Go for what you don’t know, for what is beneath the surface, hidden like a throbbing heart. 

You start with what you can see. The girl looks to be about twelve. She has green-painted fingernails. She is playing with the pepper shaker, walking it back and forth across the table. The man says, “Did I ever talk to you about pepper?”

You add a feeling, a desire, a fear, something from the past. He wants her attention, his daughter whom he doesn’t often see. The pepper stirs a memory of when he was a boy, the same age the girl is now, and his father used to take him hunting. He remembers they used bread to attract the animals, bread smeared with pepper. 

“Pepper can be dangerous,” he says. 

You write the story he tells the girl. You begin to understand him, who he was as a boy, who he is now. Then you write your story. 

None of this is easy. The initial spark—something you observe, something someone tells you, something you dream—may sit fallow in your journal or on your computer for years before you re-discover it and begin to write. It takes time to make art out of the raw material of life or fantasy.

It was five years after I saw the man and the girl in the restaurant that I wrote “Pepper Hunt.” It appeared first in a literary journal, where it won first place in a short-short contest, then in two anthologies, and it’s now in my story collection, You Won’t Remember This


photo © duncan1890

Starting With Memory - Kate Blackwell in The Writer's Life eMagazine

This is part of an interview with Kate Blackwell published in The Writer's Life eMagazine.

You can read the full interview here.

Q: Welcome to The Writer's Life!  Now that your book has been published, we’d love to find out more about the process.  Can we begin by having you take us at the beginning?  Where did you come up with the idea to write your book?

A: Since You Won’t Remember This is a collection of stories, I don’t have a short answer to this question. I began to write stories twenty years ago, initially as a way to learn how to write a novel. But the strategies of the short form were seductive. I kept writing stories until I had enough for a collection. As for my ideas for individual stories, they usually begin as a memory, something I don’t understand and can’t forget: an offhand remark of my mother’s, a murder case I read about in the newspaper, a wedding I attended when I was twelve. I suppose I write to make sense of something.

Q: How hard was it to write a book like this and do you have any tips that you could pass on which would make the journey easier for other writers?

A: The hard part of writing this book was the time it took. Short stories aren’t easy to get right; sometimes I linger over one for several years before I understand what it’s about and am able to find the ending. One thing that keeps me going is the chance to publish single stories on the way to a book. Ten of the twelve stories in this collection first appeared in literary magazines.

Q: Is there anything that surprised you about getting your first book published?

A: I was surprised at how good it felt to connect with readers. I had no idea how moved I would be by people’s reactions to my stories, their curiosity about the characters, their enthusiasm for their favorite story, and the questions they asked about those that troubled them. The conversations I’ve had with readers have been amazingly affirming.

For Immediate Release - Kate Blackwell's Highly Praised Short Story Collection Now Available in Paperback and E-Book

For Immediate Release

Review copies, book cover and author photograph jpegs, and interviews available upon request.

Contact: Michele Orwin | 202-299-9551 | editor@baconpressbooks.com

Kate Blackwell's Highly Praised Short Story Collection Now Available in Paperback and E-Book

Stories that probe the ordinary and reveal the unexpected

The twelve stories in Kate Blackwell’s debut collection, You Won’t Remember This, published to high praise by Southern Methodist University Press in 2007 and released  in paperback and ebook by Bacon Press Books on May 1, 2015, illuminate the lives of men and women who appear as unremarkable as your next-door neighbor until their lives explode quietly on the page. Her wry, often darkly funny voice describes the repressed underside of a range of middle-class characters in the South. Blackwell’s focus is elemental—on marriage, birth, death, and the entanglements of love at all ages—but her gift is to shine a light on these universal situations with such lucidity, it is as if one had never seen them before.

In “My First Wedding,” a twelve-year-old girl attends her cousin’s Deep South nuptials, where she discovers both mystery and disillusionment and, in the end, finds she’s not immune to her family’s myth of romantic love.

In “Heartbeatland,” when a young woman’s husband dies suddenly, she refuses to sell his Jeep to an importuning gay neighbor. The more she clings to the Jeep—and to the memory of her beloved David—the more he becomes someone she doesn’t recognize.

In “Queen of the May,” a former belle looks for ways to assuage her loneliness in her large new house in the empty Carolina sandhills.

Blackwell began writing fiction after a career in journalism. At first she wrote stories in order to learn how to write novels, but the strategies of the short form proved a pleasure all their own. “Stories are more like poems than novels,” she says. “Besides, I fell in love with the challenge of the story: compressing a life into twenty pages, finding the right ending.”

She also sees the story as a particularly democratic form. “The modern short story isn’t just a short read versus a long one. Following the tradition that began with Chekhov, it’s  become the literary voice of the individual, often the solitary, whose pain and fear go unheard”—like the protagonist in Olive Kittredge, for example, or the provincial characters in Alice Munro’s  stories.

“I try for stories that allow us entry to the inner lives of people we wouldn’t otherwise know. What we find isn’t what we expect.” In this way, she believes, fiction “helps us develop the capacity for empathy, the willingness to probe under the surface, to inquire and understand rather than judge.”                               

You Won’t Remember This

Kate Blackwell

List $12.99

Paperback: 232 pages

Bacon Press Books

ISBN-13: 978-0-9863060-1-3 

eBook

List: $8.99

ASIN: B00VKPXBSM

What People Are Saying

"Blackwell's stories are jewels, each polished and tweaked to perfection, characters vividly rendered and plots as tightly wound as watch springs.” – Baton Rouge Advocate

 "Blackwell's collection of 12 stories may be one of the best books of the year.” – The Clarion Ledger

 "You Won’t Remember This, the first book of short stories by Kate Blackwell, a Winston-Salem native, is one of the finest collections I’ve read, and, in my work, I am privileged to read many. Blackwell’s wisdom and subtlety are evident even in the title. By telling us we won’t remember, she ensures that we do. . . ." – Winston-Salem Journal

 “. . . the kind of truth that fiction gets at best." – The Raleigh News & Observer

 “Kate Blackwell has what Flannery O’Connor called ‘a talent for humanity.’ In each story, she looks at life with a direct gaze and writes in elegant, measured tones with beautiful, melancholy humor. The collection surely derives its honesty and power and music from the great Southern tradition—but in its sheer comprehension and passion, it is universal as well.” - Howard Norman, The Bird Artist

 “Kate Blackwell is a wonderful and very perceptive writer who knows more about love, and more about loss, than most of us ever will. These stories about all sorts of Southern men and women are both funny and sad, and always subtly but deeply sympathetic.” - Alison Lurie, Foreign Affairs

 “Throughout this fine first collection, there is a fascinating tension between limpid prose and incisive truth. Kate Blackwell tends to deal with secrets—an unfulfilled desire, a denied knowledge, a hidden love. She writes with especial power and insight about the parts of themselves women give up—or bury—when they marry.” - Joyce Johnson, Minor Characters

 About the author

kateblackwell

KATE BLACKWELL worked as a journalist and editor before turning full-time to fiction. Her first collection, YOU WON’T REMEMBER THIS, was published in hardback in 2007 by Southern Methodist University Press.  Her stories have appeared in numerous journals, including Agni, Prairie Schooner, New Letters, Carve, The Literary Review, The Greensboro Review, Sojourner, and So To Speak. She lives in Washington, DC. Learn more about Kate Blackwell at http://www.kateblackwell.com

Bacon Press Books is an independent publisher based in Washington, DC. Contact: editor@baconpressbooks.com