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To Write Truthfully

An Interview with William Hawkins

By Joseph Linscott, Fiction Reader 

What is necessary, in a character, for a character to be dwelling on a comment made at a dinner in front of a writer? A shameless person wouldn’t be thinking about it. Anxieties are often manifestations of a desire to move in time, to “correct” time. 

–William Hawkins

What was the inspiration behind this story?

I committed a sin similar to the referenced writer of this piece—I wrote a story about a home where I was a guest. The host, on reading the story, rightfully took me to task. (I had failed in writing it, writing into a truth as I saw it and failing to take into account the limitations of my perspective.) It is an interesting conundrum to me, which is where this story came into fruition: as writers what, if anything, is off-limits. To write well, to write truthfully, do we sometimes have to write rudely?

When you are settling into who the characters are in a story, what kind of work goes into the making of that character’s interior life for you? Your work, especially in “The Woman in the Novel,” does a great job of establishing the interiority of a character and plumbing that interiority to build out the story—pushing up against and ruminating on anxieties. 

In my drafts I tend to write sentence-by-sentence (or clause-by-clause), letting each follow its necessity. What is necessary, in a character, for a character to be dwelling on a comment made at a dinner in front of a writer? A shameless person wouldn’t be thinking about it. Anxieties are often manifestations of a desire to move in time, to “correct” time. 



When I read this story for the first time, I had the similar experience of listening to a well-composed piece of music that utilizes tension and release. There are these sustained chunks of the story where we are so in the protagonist’s head, with the very real loss of self that she feels, until, at the end, there is almost an acceptance of this fate. At what point in the process of writing a story do you start thinking about where and how to release the tension that is building in a story?

Usually, for myself, a short story has a hinge, a moment that is a choice, and the choice is always (or nearly always) to change course or to continue. Sometimes, even for me, it’s hard to tell which the character chose. But it’s not necessary to know. So long as the choice arrives.

How do you know when a story needs to end? Why did you decide to end “The Woman in the Novel” with “her husband has come home, is inside, calling her name, and asking if they shouldn’t order in tonight”?

I usually end stories as return to pragmatism. To a grounding. Simple descriptions of where we are in space and time. The story returning from foreground to background.

What is the line between fiction and nonfiction? Do you think there are things that a writer shouldn’t touch? Parts of other’s experiences with them that aren’t theirs to write about?

It depends on the necessity of the experience to the story, and if the writer is able to bear the consequences of writing it, without self-aggrandizing. (In other words, confusing what’s more important—the story or the writer. For me it’s always the story.) The writer Dorothy Allison once advised a room of writers, “You gotta embarrass your mother.” In other words, if you’re not risking something, it can’t be that important. 


Who are you currently reading?

I just finished The End of the World Is a Cul-de-Sac by Louise Kennedy and highly recommend it. Some pristine stories can be found in this collection. Her stories operate as a series of revelations. Wonderful work.

What are you currently working on?

Editing a novel and polishing a short story collection.

By Joseph Linscott

Joseph Linscott is a fiction reader for Mud Season Review. After earning an M.A. in Literature from the University of Maine, he taught for seven years in Colorado. His work has appeared in SporkletHelenBangor Literary Journal, and ZiN Daily. He works with his wife and dog for their stationery business.