The second essay from the book Bringing the Devil to His Knees is Jim Shepard’s “I Know Myself Real Well. That is the Problem.” And I haven’t read Robert Stone’s short story Helping in years but I can perhaps see beginning the intro to creative writing fiction course with this one–also I can see assigning Helping along with the essay.
I enjoyed rereading and looking at what my younger self underlined. Back at Oregon State I seemed to be taken with the lines: “It’s not our task, though, to save our characters, however adorable we secretly find them. We should not, in other words, be afraid to withhold consolation.”
I couldn’t help think of the latest version of my story Juanita’s Boys–a story about Lolo’s Tio shunned from his mother’s funeral and how the story ends with him losing at the dog track and crying at the mexican drive in movies after realizing something about the day. A real downer. And I worry that my stories end with character’s failing or revealing delusions and maybe it was from reading Shepard’s essay and so many of Stone’s short stories. Or maybe I just know my family real well. And I’m reminded of the idea that wisdom just never seems to stick to me because I seem to make similar mistakes and Shepard reminds that this is a sign of humanity so important to fiction and believable characters. He goes on to write that what our characters want and need and what they are waiting for is not always the best thing for them. Characters, as in Stone’s Helping, are constantly undermining themselves and revealing their delusions–reaching epiphany and then forgetting which Shepard states is a truer display of humanity than learning a lesson. Shepard writes of Stone’s characters: “We get an unfolding of the mystery of self destructiveness…but not its resolution.” Great stuff.
Perhaps if I begin here with Stone and Shepard I won’t end up with such nice, neat and on-the-noise stories in workshop–and maybe fewer vampire stories–and replace them with messier and more human conflicts.