“Ink” flows with a slow, melodic narrative voice, one that barely touches on a pain and loneliness that forms the sharp edges of David’s life. Tell us about what inspired the story.
Sometimes readers want to hear that a story is autobiographical, sometimes (understandably) they don’t; and sometimes they’d really rather have the writer shut up and write more stories—which is probably what he should indeed do. But since you ask and since it’s important to me where stories come from, I should go ahead and say that I lived in a magical village just like the one in “Ink” when I was David’s age. By “magical,” I don’t mean just the feeling of it; I mean literal events. Vipers swarmed on the hills at night without reason. Our maid had one blue eye and one white one and sang the strangest songs in dialect. Witches poisoned cats in the olive groves. One of my best friends was a man without a throat who spoke by spitting air at the fishing wharf. I had what seemed, yes, to be precognitive dreams at times (ah, to be twelve again), and other events amazing even to the adults did occur. (And, yes, there was an old woman who gave a boy such envelopes at an iron gate that led into the endless grounds of a villa.)
This story is cradled in history, not only the political turmoil of a world gone by, but in the history of magic and belief. It can be seen in “Dottor Lupo,” the image of a hawk or eagle with wings outstretched, curses in the shadows and miracles in the light, the certainty and acceptance of a safe place. Some authors might have sacrificed representation of one sort of history for another. Did you let the line between the two draw itself, or were you conscious of blurring the edges so that one ran into the other without seam?
Since the village was indeed magical, I had no trouble not drawing a line. But this is true of most of the fantasy and science fiction I write. It is all highly autobiographical—beyond what any reader might imagine (even the fantastic elements): I begin with the events and emotions and epiphanies and characters of my own life—ones that I want to memorialize by feeling and craft and share with others. Then I let reality become the fantastic. In other words, because I have lived a life that for some reason has been so full of magic (both perceived and actual), that transformation of the Factual/Real/Actual into Fantasy of one kind or another is the most natural thing in the world. It is, in the context of my own life, the ultimate realism. In that village, a boy wrote to the world’s leaders to get stamps . . . and they answered, and decades later, that became a science fiction story called “Stamps.” Later in life, in yet another country, that boy’s experiences—as a man—with strange dogs and a terrible bus accident became a horror story called “Dog.” Later still, that man turned his two years in that magical Italian fishing village into a novel called The Village Sang To The Sea . . . and within a few months the classroom where he’d sat half a century before suddenly was full of students (yes, actually) studying his novel, emailing him questions about it and his own “post-war era” times in their village so long ago. On and on, world without end, the magical in the real, and the stories a writer writes coming from and returning to the life he has lived—which is true for all writers, of course. Sometimes that magic has been a darkness, but more often been a marvelous light, and I couldn’t be more grateful and happy about it.
Having grown up in a Navy household, I understand the push to recreate yourself with each new duty station, to pursue a new hobby or collection that will help define your identity in this new place. That sense of identity, of knowing the self, is a vital component in storytelling. What do you see as the biggest pitfalls of creating living, breathing characters? What hazards lurk in the shadows of fiction?
Hey, another military brat. That’s wonderful. You know, then . . . Of the two kinds of kids that seemed to come from military life—the super-gregarious and confident, and the more withdrawn and self-creating, as you suggest—I was, of course, like David, the latter. Something tells me I just answered this question with question number two above. I guess I see no pitfalls because what I write is that “ultimate realism” I mentioned. I believe in the magical—in miracle of the synchronicity kind—and perhaps because I do (the laws of attraction work in wondrous and sometimes coyote-trickster ways) the universe has responded, and the fiction this writer writes is not much different from the life lived.
Not only are you a writer, you offer consultations and coaching services for other writers to help them hone their craft. What are some of the most common questions and concerns of writers who come to you for coaching?
When people want a coach, they often want one to solve problems. Often the problem is writer’s block, staying on the wagon, sustaining the writing habit until a book’s rough draft is done, say. Sometimes it’s a matter of total paralysis—“Every word I start to put down is WRONG!” Sometimes it’s craft matters, sure, but more often it’s about life itself, how to reconcile life’s duties and distractions (and fears of writing) with the urge and need to write. (I’m sometimes Yoda, they tell me, but just as often a mediator between the Two Selves, championing for the one and negotiating with the other. I often have to tell writers, “Which regret do you want on your deathbed—that you wrote or that you didn’t write?” and that does seem to work, getting “little, fussy, worried, fearful self” to step out of the way and let the wiser creator in them do the work that needs to be done on this journey they’ve been given.)
What’s next for Bruce McAllister? What can eager fans look forward to in the second half of 2017?
Thanks for asking, Sandra. As my editors know, for decades now I’ve worked in spurts of productivity and silence, and the last six months have been no exception—the productivity kind. (Almost all of the ’90s was silence, but that’s another story—and probably one that won’t be written.) Lots of work—poetry, flash fiction and longer fiction (and reprints and podcast stories)—to appear over the next year, but the productivity is continuing, I’m happy to say. The new work: A novel expansion of my Hugo-finalist story “Kin” with a screenwriter friend, more short stories (where my heart has been for so many years), maybe another new novel, one or two film projects, who knows? Mainly simply writing . . . and continuing to write. A writer is simply one who writes; if he doesn’t, he’s some other person, isn’t he?
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