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Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Very "202 Checkmates" Father's Day

It's Father's Day so I want to talk a little about the inspiration for my story, "202 Checkmates," which was in the last (print) issue of Fiction International. It's a story about a father and his daughter. I write a lot about fathers in my fiction. I don't quite know why. I've written about angry fathers, reluctant fathers and 120 year old fathers. Right now I'm working on a story about a father after his redemption. Our stories often end with redemption, but sometimes we need to be redeemed over and over again. Redemption might not be the end. I'm often interested in the story after the credits. The marriage after the quirky courtship and the dream wedding. After the happily-ever-after. The Ewoks after the Empire.

Rarely do I use my own father as a model in my stories. The father in "202 Checkmates" is an out of work mechanic who, because he can't provide, is emotionally detached from his children--except for their tenuous connection through chess. It's not real bonding time because he's using his victories over his 11-year old daughter as a self-esteem builder for himself. My father runs a successful small law firm in Washington, DC, which always made me proud of him. We had plenty of good bonding time from soccer games to gardening. So when I think about the above story, I always have to ask myself where the character comes from.

I wrote all the stories above before I became a father. Before I even had any thoughts of becoming a father. Still, in re-reading them, it's clear that they were about my anxiety about becoming a father. Someone's guardian. A provider for someone. A disciplinarian and when needed, a friend. The story I'm currently working on is has hit some bumps in the drafting process and I realize it is because I have a son of my own and that means different anxieties. Anxieties I'm only now getting to know. The kid is no longer an abstraction, but a crawling, crying, drooling, smiling thing.

The origin of the story was a bit removed from fatherhood. It came from playing video games with my nephew. He was probably six or seven at the time and of course I let the kid win. But he was a prolific trash talker, so I started winning to show him that I could beat him and then I would laugh about it. He'd get mad and throw down the controller and then I'd coax him back and let him win. At which point, he'd start talking trash so I'd have to beat him and then he'd throw down the controller...it was a vicious cycle...

His parents and my wife were appalled. I joked that I was teaching him that life was defeat after defeat. Not a funny joke, I know. I wouldn't make that joke today.

When I sat down to write, I asked myself, what if a father really did set out to teach his child that lesson. The story seemed to write itself, which rarely happens unless I've thought about a story for a while.

Too bad I don't have a link to the story for you guys, but you should buy that particular issue of Fiction International (at the link above). There are some really good stories in there aside from my own. One of the best issues of a literary journal I've been published in.

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