Deirdre Fagan interview with Karen Stefano
“Yo-Yo” is a heart-wrenching, tender story with so much mystery in the voice of the narrator who reveals so many unexpected angles of herself, revelations that make her feel so real.
There are some exceptional lines in this piece:
“Everybody has a crutch; I had yo-yos.”
“At one time this man was a tiny little baby. And then one day he wasn't. And then one day he was like this.”
“Loneliness is the best part of any good relationship.”
“He told me yo-yos were a wicked fascination and not safe for a person of my temperament.”
The narrator in “Yo-Yo” is so tender and vulnerable and draws the reader right into her world. Can you share the inspiration for this story?
"Yo-Yo" is part of a story collection concerning the lives of characters confronting grief in various situations. The narrator of "Yo-Yo" glosses over the fact of her father's death at the beginning and throughout as she moves through various emotional and sexual experiences seeking greater understanding about men, women, and herself, but it is her loss and a general feeling of despair that propel her journey. Her particular grieving response is to seek and then reject the substitutes she finds as she works to reinvent herself and gain security without her father as a tether, a response to loss that is not uncommon. She attempts to veil her vulnerability, uncertain identity, and fear through willful exclamations about life as she undergoes her metamorphosis.
And the structure works beautifully. How did you choose it?
So much is happening in the story over such a long period of time that a continuous narrative didn't seem to work. I wanted the story to work more as a mini, mini-novella, with chapters, despite its overall brief length, and the distinct breaks seemed to accomplish that best.
What gets that mojo of a story working through your brain? And how do you sit with it? Do you work with different points of view, let it simmer?
It begins with an observation about or an experience with people that I want to distort and/or extend. This is an extreme example, but I generated the idea for a story I'm working on now about three years ago. It took another year for me to start writing it. Life interfered and I put the story away again, and returned to it a year later. When I begin to write, the story then often comes out in a flash because the characters have been living a long time in the back of my mind before they have appeared on the page. Then, the editing comes, and usually, the ending. I like creating characters who behave in unconventional ways and/or do things we sometimes wish we could, but can't. I like to work at the edges. I also weave in a fair amount of humor, frequently dark. The point of view seems to appear just as I begin to write. Have I become a character for this piece, or am I watching from the outside?
What projects are you working on now?
I'm working on revising some stories in the grief collection that I am unsatisfied with, and on sending out more of the ones I am. By the summer I plan to seek a publisher for the collection. I am also working on a memoir and hope to eventually gather my poems in one place, too.
What are your thoughts on the publishing world? Sending out work to an indy press or looking for an agent to find a home for your work?
My father always said we had to be committed to "the thing itself." He was a poet, but this was his mantra about all things in life, not only writing. I write for the thing itself but of course we always want readers and hope that what we give birth to will find a way to thrive. I think there are strengths to all avenues toward readers, and one particular avenue may fit a particular piece better, or may simply be the one open at the time. It is my belief that if we start with the thing itself, that "thing" will eventually find its home. My husband had a book of poetry he wanted to see into print before he died, so self-publishing worked best for him. My question to someone making the decision would be, how much time do you have?
Tell us something about Deirdre Fagan that would surprise us.
By age 36, I had outlived my nuclear family. At 42, I became a widow. I also don't usually like to read very long books.
If you could go back in time and spend an hour with someone, who would it be?
Emily Dickinson was my first literary love and I'm enamored with Thomas Wentworth Higginson's description of first meeting her. Her mind was so brilliant, so keen, so exacting, and she was so witty, to be in her presence would be a remarkable gift. The closest I can come to imagining her person is through her letters. If I could spend another hour with someone I have known, it would be my husband, Bob Seltzer, who died of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) in 2012. I'd like to ask him how he thinks I'm doing without him, especially in the raising of our kids. If I could crowd a room, I would also like to invite my mom, dad, and brothers, whom I've also had to go on living without -- my husband didn't meet my mom or my older brother, only my father and middle brother met my husband and our son, and no one in my nuclear family met our daughter; I'd like to introduce everyone and share a warm meal around a fire.
What have you read recently that you absolutely loved? (And why did you love it?)
I can't seem to work on one project at a time or read one book at a time anymore. I always seem to have one going in every genre. For poetry, I am returning again and again to my husband's book, After Thunder, for his perspective as a father and a philosopher, and because I miss his mind and voice. When I'm in need of company, I like to settle in for a chat with Roxane Gay's fabulous book of essays, Bad Feminist. Julie Schumacher's Dear Committee Members is currently offering me comic relief about the academic world. Having read Little Sinners, I am once again captivated by Karen Brown's short stories in Pins & Needles -- her characters and development are rich and complex and leave me thinking about possibilities for my own. Having provided me with new ideas for structure, Cheryl Strayed's enthralling Wild inspired me to return to my own memoir after a several year lapse. On the subject of grief, I found Kate Southwood's Falling to Earth gripping, raw, and honest, and there are so many memorable funny-sad scenes in Lolly Winston's Good Grief that I read parts of it aloud to my husband, who was well at the time. Good Grief resonated with my experiences of loss even before I knew I'd be losing my husband. I remember some of those scenes now and think, "Yes, that's it. That's it exactly."
Wow! Deirdre, thank you so much for sharing your work with our readers. Can’t wait to read your collection when it comes out!
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