Liner notes to accompany publication of Stopping for Strangers (2011)
I still buy CD’s. One of the reasons, there’s always an unexpected gem. Downloading music you buy the track, CD’s you get a package with rare jewels. And then there are the liner notes. There’s something magic in the crinkle of the celophane as it comes off and the cd case opens. I play the music and I read the liner notes. My only complaint. The typeface is always so damn small. I guess we have to go back to vynyl to get get enough space for bands to really let loose.
Short story collections are like CD’s in a few different ways—there are the unexpected gems, the time capsule vision of the world and the brief tastes of life we get both through a song and a short story. Here on the website I wanted to add the missing ingredient, with some liner notes of my own.
For a while I’d wanted to write a story with a gun in it. I’d been thinking about that Chekov quote about when a gun is introduced in act one, it must, without fail discharge before the end of act five. While I don’t think Chekov was talking just about gun’s there, a weapon of that kind has a weight that can hold ominous over the length of a story. Strangely enough it appeared disassembled from almost the first draft.
The Last Great Works of Alvin Cale
I was down in California with my family, had been visiting the Bay Area and my sister in law told a story about a dream she’d had of her friend. In the dream her friend said she was skinny. Rebecca called her friend the next day, found out she’d been hospitalized as a result of her eating disorder. Waiting for the ferry back from Seattle I started this story with that stolen line. There’s other parts of my life buried in here too. A friend of a friend had the sort of cancer Alvin Cale has here, she survived it fortunately. Odd how bits of life turn up unexpectedly in stories. When I sat down and put pen to paper, that dream and the woman’s battle with cancer tangled up and out came this story.
I wrote this story while we were living in France. We had a tiny flat in Aix-en-Provence. Step outside and you’re in a post card. Inside, it was a tight spot for a small family. I had no writing room so used to write in the bathtub early mornings before anyone else got up. This wasn’t the orriginal title, but the editor at the Antigonish Review where it first appeared suggested Cabbage Leaves and it seemed so obvious, I wasn’t sure why I hadn’t thought of it.
This is a story of two halves and I wrote them seperately. For a while I considered the first section a whole story. I was taking a class with Zsuzie Gartner at the time. She wanted a significant rewrite. I added a second half to the story. I remember reading her comments as she went through the story. She kept saying, I don’t see what’s changed and then she hit the second half….
As a kid I always wanted to go to Florida. I used to visit travel agents and pull out booklets and brochures that listed hotels, showed white sand beaches. I collected train time tables and planned out a trip by Via Rail and Amtrak. I’ve been all over the world and I’ve still never been to Florida, but I think it holds a unique place in the mind of a lot of people from central Canada: endless warmth, party spot, pretty girls and fine beaches. Whether that’s true or not hardly matters.
Stopping for Strangers
I used to hitch hike a lot. It’s kind of gone out of fashoin as a method of travel, but for me, its one of the best. It takes time. Like a lot of good things, it doesn’t fit into our busy world. One of the things I like most about it is the possibility it holds. You’re thrown together with a stranger for a time. Surprise awaits. I think some of that shows in this story. I’ve written a couple of hitch hiker stories, but this is my favourite of them, and because I didn’t feel quite comfortable putting more than one in this book, the others will have to wait…
I love the title lucky streak. Infact, luck’s one of my favourite words–a surprising thing for someone who doesn’t truly believe in luck. I was living in San Francisco that year the Giants made it to the world series and lost in game seven. My wife was doing massage out of our house and we had a three year old daughter. The rest, I promise, is fiction.
Martin and Lisa
I wrote one draft of this story, worked on it for six months or so then set it asside. I set a lot of stories aside, some I come back do, most I don’t. I used to “finish” every story I started, but the truth is every writer has still born stories. I do a lot of revision on paper, printing out the story and then typing in my changes. It means there’s lots of papers flying around the house with my scribbled edits on one side. One night I was frustrated with my lack of progress on a piece I was working on. I sat down in a chair, pulled out one of my wife’s cook books to use as a writing surface. Out fell a recepie on loose leaf paper. The back of it had one page from this story. I read it, thought it was a heck of a lot better than the piece I was working on and got back to work on Lisa and Martin.
I lived in Toronto only for a year. My second child was born there, but for me, I still associate the city with my early twenties and visiting friends in dingy basement apartments, bachelor pads thick with dope smoke, slackers with mcjobs of various kinds. I associate the city with the inbetween years and I think that’s where this story came from and why for me it had to be set in Toronto.
Mercedes Buyer’s Guide
I was trying to write an Ann Beattie story when I wrote this. I’d just read Distortions and it had left me with a renewed vision of the wide open possibilities of short fiction. The story kind of wrote itself. One morning I was listening to Car Talk on NPR and someone called in asking what to do after he’d found a couple thousand dollars in a used car he’d just purchased. I think it might even have been a Mercedes. I can’t remember the advice he received, but that day I sat down. The story just wrote itself. It’s one of the earlier stories in this collection, and I think there’s something here that set the tone for some of the stories that came several years later.