Our fiction editor, Robin Lauzon Parker, recently spoke with Alan Kennedy, author of Issue #2’s “Beanie’s Island.” Here’s what he had to say about the inspiration and meaning behind the story and his overall approach to writing the stories that strike him.
What inspired you to write “Beanie’s Island”?
It originally was a story of two sisters, based on people I knew of when I was growing up in eastern Oregon. But that stalled, and so I introduced a third person, then made the story about old friends, not sisters.
I was trying to get at how two people who had known each other a long time through an uneven relationship treated subservience and betrayal. Or at least that is how I look at it now.
At the time it was a lot of trial and error until I found where I was going. But maybe without knowing it, I was trying to find out what would happen when one person, in this case Patricia (Beanie) Collier, laid a burden on another without thinking or caring about the ramifications and, more important, how Carol, who had always been her caddy, would respond.
Originally I wrote the story in third person, trying to get at both characters, but my sister Toni, who has an excellent eye for story, suggested I get closer to Carol, and so I changed it to first person. That seemed to work better.
What do you hope people take away from this story?
Maybe that there are limits to one’s loyalty to others and honesty, and that is a responsibility of both parties.
What are you working on now?
A number of stories. There is no theme. I seem to follow the alarm in the back of my head when I see or hear something that strikes me as unusual or workable.
What is the best advice about writing you have ever received?
When I was working as a stringer and covering selectmen’s meetings in a small town for the Providence (RI) Journal-Bulletin, an editor, Les Boyd, told me in so many words to just get the thing done, that the paper had a space to fill. That was a good counter to my tendency to constantly rewrite. So I hope I learned the need for balance.
Can you describe your writing process?
I wish I were more consistent, but I usually write for two, two-and-a-half hours in the early morning. If I am starting something new, I try to write it beginning to end, even though part of it might be only a sketch. The hope is that the more unified I make the story initially, the better time I will have with it in the future. But I have also found that not much runs that smoothly and, like stories themselves, no two processes of writing them follow the same path.
What is the first story you remember writing?
When I was in high school, I wrote a parody on the Hunchback of Notre Dame. It was terrible.
What writer inspires you?
Many of them. I hope I learn something from each. The old Greek playwrights, Dostoyevsky, Chekhov, Hemingway. O’Connor, Welty, Joyce, Carver, Munro, Ron Carlson, Steven Millhauser. And a lot more I will remember after this interview.
What’s your favorite children’s book?
I don’t remember many children’s stories. My wife is always telling me I need to read Charlotte’s Web. So maybe that would be a good start.