“Nobody’s Stranger,” a new (and also very old) twisted Miami-noirish short story of mine, goes up in two parts at Medium this week.
I say “old,” because I wrote the first version of it in Harry Crews’ class at the age of twenty. That early draft got lost, but my friend Andy and I reminisced about it (and about studying with Crews) on this site nine years ago, and afterward I wrote this version.
Since then I’ve tinkered with it here and there but it’s mostly been sitting around in a folder. Not long ago, Julie read and liked it, so when Lizzie asked if I had any fiction she could consider for Open Ticket, her great new Medium collection, I sent it along. She’s read big chunks of my novel-in-progress (excerpted at Narrative), which is very different, so I was nervous. To my surprise and delight, she asked to run it.
Here’s part one.
I’ve written plenty of autobiographical essays, and I’m sure I’ll continue to write them, but at the LA Times I try to explain why I’m working on a novel rather than a memoir, even though I’m mining my own life for the book. I’m fascinated, in general, by the relationship between truth and invention in fiction, and have posted on the subject often. See, for example, Welty v. Maxwell on autobiography in fiction; On the importance of what is culled; On the melding of fact and invention in fiction; and On the melding of fact and invention in fiction II.
And it’s been weird, over the years, to watch my experiences and the people from my past morph into completely different episodes, completely unrelated characters, so that fact has given way, I hope, to some kind of deeper emotional truth. In case anybody unearths my old Story South story, which has made its way (in significantly altered form) into my novel, for instance: I feel compelled to say that the churchgoer I mentioned in the LA Times essay, the one who showed up at our door naked, has transformed into “Luke” — a character who is far, far less like the man himself than he is like my friend Rocky, A/K/A Robert Moak, A/K/A a churchgoer and crack addict who later perished in Hurricane Andrew when he tried to weather the storm in an abandoned houseboat.
The story is actually an excerpt from a novel I’ve been writing — and writing about writing — for an embarrassingly long time. Here’s how it opens:
My mother was a preacher until the cops shut her down. Well, okay, she kept at it halfheartedly in our living room for a while, but the fire had wiped out not just her warehouse church and the halfway house she ran out of it, but her passion, her commitment, and maybe even, deep down, her belief. All those years of serving the Lord, of taking to the streets to let the homeless and addicted and just plain lonely know what a friend they had in Jesus, and now she had no proper house of worship, no sea of folding chairs or repository of sermons on tape. She was practically a layperson. Worse, her flock knew it and was slipping away.
You can read the rest here. Thank you, Narrative.