I used to go sledding as a child in a cemetery where several of my family members and at least one friend are buried. That experience helped deliver to me some of the materials for my story “Suicide Hill.” In planning this story set in a cemetery, my thoughts went to my own eventual death, and I got to thinking about what sort of life I might feel satisfied having lived. Those thoughts took me to the death of my grandfather, a man I admired for his quiet personality but very action oriented brand of love. He was the sort of man who grew tomatoes and took them around to his friends, the sort of man who drove children two hours south to the hospital in Indianapolis when they would have otherwise had trouble getting there. I also thought of the lives of all the other people I knew who were buried near my grandfather.
In writing “Suicide Hill,” I made up a character who ended up with very poor attendance at his funeral. I also placed a protagonist who’d been paid to carry the casket. Then I tried to become that character and see what he thought about the low attendance. When I finished the first draft of the story six or so years ago, I didn’t really think it much mattered if a person had anyone at their funeral or not. I mean, who cares? But I couldn’t make that “who cares” ending work for me, and I’ve found that I care very much about the way my wife and daughters would remember me should I die. I think “Suicide Hill” and my novel Love on the Big Screen both also reflect my notion that love ought to contain logical and emotional features.
“Suicide Hill” was the story I submitted to Georgia College and State University as a writing sample when I wanted to undertake a study in fiction writing. That and my teaching experiences were probably just enough to convince somebody on the school’s faculty to let me come get to work. (it sure wasn’t the GRE score).
Once in graduate school, even though the first text I had written was a novel and I wanted to revise it for my thesis, I found the courses I was taking mostly called for stories. As I went to class and taught class, I worked on my divorce novel on my own time and wrote new stories for the workshops: “Every Word I Said,” “Aloe For the Burn,” and “Friends at the Table,” were all stories I wrote during my time at Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville. Those are all stories that appear in my forthcoming collection Horseshoe.
As for Milledgeville and GCSU, it’s a town and college that take great pride in being the home of Flannery O’Connor, and even before I ever moved to Georgia, O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find,” was one of my favorites. That’s saying a lot–that she’d written a story I knew–since I wasn’t much a short story reader back then. O’Connor’s character “The Misfit” takes on nearly comic-book or super-anti-hero qualities for me, and her themes connected to guilt, violence, and Christianity are also ideas that I find myself often in conversation with. I’d say they are some of the major themes in the Horseshoe collection.
If you know my character “Zuke” from Love on the Big Screen, I wrote that he was from a small town called Horseshoe. In my mind, Zuke’s hometown is a fictionalized version of Winamac, Indiana. The word “horseshoe” as the title of my novel-in-stories comes from the way my small hometown of Winamac sits on a horseshoe bend of the Tippecanoe River in North-Central Indiana. This geographical feature is something you can see for yourself on Google Maps:
Winamac is the town where my parents are from and their parents are from before that, and even though I wasn’t born there, it’s the place where I graduated from high school and the place I say I’m from if anyone ever asks. When people in Winamac say the horseshoe,they mean the road that runs along the outer edge of the town park which is almost pinched into an island by a sharp-hook bend of the river. I lived in two different houses when I lived in Winamac: one right on the river where I could look across the water, see the road everyone called the horseshoe, and also the basketball courts. I was a bad cross-country runner in high school, and practice was often held in the park where we ran in packs and did repeats of the three-quarter mile loop. The second house I lived in is the house where I placed the character Matthew Walker’s family. Pam Scott, a woman haunted by the sound of a knocker, lives in the house my grandmother lives in today.