They came back inside to find Owen still at the table, a shot glass engulfed by his long, broad-tipped fingers. He was older than the others, his face taut and creased, so tall that he had to slouch in his chair to keep his knees from banging the table. He claimed he was the only black man within a radius of ten miles. What am I doing here? he said. I can't walk through the campgrounds alone at night. ("Looking for a Female Tenet," Page 7)
Catherine Brady's had a lot of practice writing short stories, and it shines through in The Mechanics of Falling & Other Stories. In "Slender Little Thing," Brady modifies a poetic form, known as Pantoum, in which the second and fourth lines of the first stanza are repeated as the first and third lines of the next stanza. The Pantoum is a variation of the Villanelle, in which the first and third lines in a three line stanza poem are repeated as a refrain alternately throughout the poem. Here's an example of a Pantoum and an example of a Villanelle. Poets interested in form will enjoy this story because it uses a version of these forms to hammer home the heart of the story where a mother, Cerise, struggles with her lot in life as a nanny to richer parents and as a nurse assistant in a nursing home while trying to raise her daughter, Sophie, to be more than she is.
"The Dazzling World" packs a punch when Judith and Cam are robbed at gunpoint in a foreign country on their way to meet Judith's sister at her archaeological dig site. Not only does this story immerse readers in a foreign nation, it also leads them on a journey of discovery, almost rediscovery for Judith.
While these stories are each around 20-30 pages each, the characters are complex and on the verge or dealing with a perspective shattering event. Many of these characters are somber, and more than complacent--resigned--until an event jars them awake to look at their world through different eyes.
She pulled a compact from the purse that still hung open on her arm, angling the mirror to examine her hair, reaching up to snag unruly strands. Of the beautiful, fluttering girl, only this artlessness remained. ("Scissors, Paper, Rock," Page 85)
Settings in this volume of short stories are varied; the characters share common traits, but lead different kinds of lives--two young waitresses trying to pay for college and find themselves, a horse rancher and his roommate's game of relationship chess, a mother trying to raise her daughter successfully and send her off to college, a couple whose relationship is disintegrating, and many more. Readers will enjoy the surface of these stories as well as their deeper meanings beneath the layers of protective skin. Brady's prose is captivating and thought provoking all in just a few lines, and she easily fuses poetic lines and techniques into her narratives. (I should have asked her if she writes poetry.)
I want to thank Catherine Brady for her time in answering my questions about her writing. Check out the giveaway details after the interview. Without further ado, here are her answers:
1. I noticed on your website that you’ve published a number of successful short story collections. What is it about your execution of the genre that you think has made it so successful and do you have plans to expand into novel writing?
I feel lucky to have published three collections and for my work to be included in Best American Short Stories. I have a little bit of trouble defining success. If I were fully satisfied by any of my stories, I could quit and take it easy. I think you keep writing because you haven’t achieved all your ambitions for your work. The short story is such a challenging form that there’s plenty left for me to shoot for, and I really, really love the form. I could probably do a better job of defining what I am aiming for than guessing whether I’m successful or not.
I believe a good story satisfies any reader in the most basic way—you care about the characters and their fate. Art always opens a door for any reader, so if you like the plot, or connect with the characters, or enjoy the language, or even dissect every sentence, the story should reward you for whatever effort you are willing to make (and reward you more for more effort). The kind of story I hope to write is one that asks the reader to do some of the imagining and promises to engage her heart as well as her mind.
I am working on a novel right now, and I’ve really been enjoying the writing, which has never been true when I’ve attempted a novel before. So maybe someday I’ll have a novel.
2. Do you find publicizing your short story collections is more challenging that it would be to market a novel? Why?
Yes. It’s more difficult to promote stories. People assume they’re going to be literary and obscure and more difficult than a novel, and nobody really expects you to sell very many copies. It’s much easier to label a novel as being about a specific subject, and what people most enjoy about novels is the chance to get really intimate with a character. A book of stories keeps moving you on to a new set of characters and then another new set. BUT . . . each story should offer you the sudden, deep knowledge of another person that you experience in life when you’re thrown together with someone in a crisis. Which is a different kind of satisfaction.
3. Would you like to share some of your obsessions and how they keep you motivated or inspired?
In a story collection, you’re often writing about people whose lives have unexpected things in common. You get to explore how different people might be dealing with similar or related predicaments, and for me, the best thing about this is that each story poses its own truth, and each truth is partial. I’m obsessed with “yes, but” kinds of questions.
I’m also really motivated to write because you don’t know what will happen once you really get to work. You might think the story is headed in a particular direction, but nine times out of ten, surprises crop up. I often anticipate a story is going to end at a certain point, and I’ll be writing away when all of a sudden, much sooner than I’d expected, the ending just leaps up and declares itself. I’m also obsessed with grammar—prim pince-nez correctness but also the way that you can use sentence structure to build out a story, to make it more three-dimensional. I have strong personal feelings about punctuation, I like to pile up things in a long list, I hate semi-colons—you get the idea. Writing is something of a fetish. But it’s also a craft, and I want to get better at making a beautiful object. Musical sentences. Surprising images. Intricate little tricks that a reader might never notice, but I’ll know that they are there. So, for example, in The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories, there are images of boxes and containers in nearly all the stories, which makes sense for a collection that’s concerned with how people are held in place in their lives, when that feels like safety and when it feels like a trap. I like knowing that there is this “below the radar” connection among the different stories.
4. If you could choose your favorite story from The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories, what would it be and why?
I probably have a few favorites. I’m partial to “Slender Little Thing,” because it has a form that uses repetition in ways that aren’t supposed to be used in stories. I like to break rules once in a while, and this is also a story that means a lot to me personally. The main character is someone whose life can seem really hemmed in if you take a certain view of her, and one of the reasons I wanted to use repetition was to get that perspective on the page, so that I could then try to counter it. Let the reader see what’s wearingly repetitive and also what can’t be accounted for by a simple summing up of her life.
I also like “Dazzling World” and “Looking for Female Tenet.” I like “Wicked Stepmother” at least in part because some people have mentioned they didn’t much like the main character, and you always defend the child who’s being criticized by someone else.
5. Please describe your writing space and how it differs (if at all) from your ideal writing space.
I like the space that I’m working in. My home office opens on to our tiny back yard so I’ve got great light and I can look out at our garden. I’ve crammed in as many books as will fit, and I have a great big desk so that I can make a mess when I’m working and scatter papers all over. I really need to have my favorite books close by—when I get stuck, I just open a book of Pablo Neruda’s poems or Alice Munro’s story so I can remember that anything is possible, that a sentence might lead anywhere. It also helps to bow several times before Chekhov’s collected stories.
About the Author (From Brady's Website):
Catherine Brady's most recent collection, The Mechanics of Falling & Other Stories, was published in 2009. Her second short story collection, Curled in the Bed of Love, was the co-winner of the 2002 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and a finalist for the 2003 Binghamton John Gardner Fiction Book Award. Brady’s first collection of short stories, The End of the Class War, was a finalist for the 2000 Western States Book Award in Fiction. Her stories have been included in Best American Short Stories 2004 and numerous anthologies and journals. Click Here to Read more about Catherine. Read some excerpts, here. Check out Catherine Brady's list of appearances and her other tour stops with TLC Book Tours.
***Giveaway Details (Only for U.S. Residents)***
Catherine Brady has offered 1 copy of The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories to one of my U.S.-based readers.
1. Leave a comment on this post about the review or interview and you receive one entry.
2. Blog or spread the word about this giveaway and leave a comment here with a link.
Deadline is May 1, 2009, 11:59 PM EST.
THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED!
***My Other Giveaways***
Don't forget to enter the Keeper of Light and Dust giveaway, here and here. Deadline is April 28 at 11:59 PM EST.
There's a giveaway for 5 copies of Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch, here; deadline is April 29, 2009, 11:59 PM EST.