Our fiction editor, Robin Lauzon Parker, recently spoke with Edward Boyle, author of Issue #3’s “Making Weight.” Here’s what he had to say about his writing, his inspirations, and the way he lets his characters find their ways in his stories.
What inspired you to write “Making Weight”?
My wife and I have four kids, one girl and three boys. Two of the boys were serious wrestlers, and the third has Down Syndrome. I put a wrestler and a Down syndrome kid in the same family, and they ended up living in a rural county in northern New Hampshire.
I know you originally called this piece “The House of the Righteous Will Stand” and wonder what you hoped readers would derive from that title?
The narrator, Casey, gives up the most important thing in his life knowing that Patrick, the person benefiting most from his choice, will never grasp the sacrifice he’s made. Casey’s choice is rooted in moral excellence, in righteousness.
With the original title, I hoped to leave the reader with a sense that Casey’s act would eventually pay off for him, even though Casey himself was not looking for a payoff. I felt bad about Casey’s not getting his chance, and I wanted the reader to buy into the notion that Casey was going to win his fourth state title and go on to live a better, more fulfilling life because of the decision he made.
There were numerous shortcomings to the original title, and an editor pointed them out and suggested changing it. The title was long, not particularly memorable, overtly religious in a non-religious story, and it assumed that the reader would feel the same way I did, that Casey’s act was, in fact, righteous. The original title also was unrealistic in presuming that righteous acts are always rewarded with happy endings.
What do you hope people take away from this story?
I hope I’ve shown, even in a small way, the joys and frustrations of living with a mentally challenged family member or relative. It’s awesome and maddening at the same time. The obsessiveness that Patrick exhibits in the story—brushing his teeth until they bleed, holding his hands up to the light and counting his bones, trying to find his rhythm in the headphones—is all true!
I also hope that readers can find a small bit of inspiration with the way this family deals with their challenges. In spite of all the bad things happening to them, the members of this family still appreciate the things they have, look out for one another, and continue to push forward.
What are you working on now?
My best friend, Kevin Carey, and I recently started a collaborative novel based on a screenplay, Peter’s Song, we wrote years ago. The screenplay won a couple of contests, so the story is fairly solid. We’ve had a couple of small filmmakers interested over the years, but no luck having someone pick it up to produce yet.
In addition to the collaborative novel, I also have about 10 viable short stories in various levels of completion from my time at the Stonecoast MFA program. I just had one of them, “Honor Thy Wife,” nominated for a Pushcart Prize by Crabfat Literary Magazine. I’m working toward a collection.
What is the best advice about writing you have ever received?
Writing is a job like laying pipe or driving a truck. It isn’t magic, and you’re not sitting in front of a Ouija board. I’m paraphrasing that from Stephen King’s book On Writing.
Can you describe your writing process for us?
I rarely write with an outline, so the beginning is always confusing. I like to place characters in the natural world, because it provides more opportunities for something to happen. A stray dog might bite one of the characters, or maybe it’s something as simple as somebody losing a shoe and then having to walk out of the woods with one bare foot. And then I just keep moving my characters.
Eventually, if the story is going to work, the character is going to move to a place where he has to do something or something external happens to him that makes him different from when he started. After I see or perceive a change in the character, it’s a lot of rewrites and obsessing over word choices and the way sentences sound.
You mention co-authoring a screenplay. How would you compare screenwriting to fiction writing? Do you have a different approach to each genre?
In screenwriting, the writer can depend on someone else (the filmmaker holding a camera) to fill in the blanks. For instance, if I have two characters walking along a trail in the woods, I can describe the setting this way in screenwriting – EXTERIOR LOGGING TRAIL – DAY – and then be done with it.
When I write fiction, describing that same logging trail can take a long time. There are so many questions I can ask about the trail, and while all the answers don’t have to be included in the narrative, the more questions I’ve asked, the more details I’m armed with. Then it comes down to cherry-picking the most vivid or memorable images and weaving them into the description of the trail. The goal is that one or more of these images connects with readers, and they feel as if they are standing on the trail.
How do you get to know your characters when you’re writing fiction?
By offering them options to the scenarios they are in and seeing which ones they choose.
What is the first story you remember writing?
I was a freshman in high school, and the narrator of the story I wrote was a light bulb. I think I was reading a lot of Ray Bradbury back then and maybe even Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine.