Five Stories by Eric Sheridan Wyatt

Five Stories by Eric Sheridan Wyatt is a book featuring the first five stories I had accepted for publication.

Five Stories by Eric Sheridan Wyatt is a book featuring the first five stories I had accepted for publication.

From time-to-time, students in my fiction and legacy writing classes ask to read some of my published stories. Often times I would make digital or copy-printed versions of the stories available. But, recently, I decided to print a small book with the first five stories that earned me the coveted words from an editor: “We would like to print your story.”

Simply titled, Five Stories, this thin volume includes the following: Things He Wasn’t Supposed to Do, Cop-Cop Cop, Dudley’s Sacrifice, Solomon’s Ditch, and Most Dead Birds are Never Found.

The book is available for purchase through my printing partner, Lulu, and if you click on this link, you will be taken to the product page.

Some of you, dear readers, have already read all or some of these stories. If you would like, I would be very happy if you would follow that link and leave a review of the stories and rate the book so that it might attract attention of other readers.

As always, thank you all for your support.

Happy Writing!

P.S. Stay tuned for a big announcement next week. I have a new opportunity I am very excited to share with you.

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Carver’s Ending of Cathedral: “It’s Really Something”

One of the things that I like best about asking fellow writers to write for my blog during these “A Week With…” posts is the variety of response. Yesterday, Dr. Heidi Moore talked about how, at this stage in her life, she questions the “ease” of the ending that Carver gives us. Today, writer and creative writing teacher, Sara McDaniel focuses on the simple words that Carver uses to reveal this epiphany of the narrator.

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Anton Chekhov once wrote, “I think that when one has finished writing a short story one should delete the beginning and the end. That’s where we fiction writers mostly go wrong” (quoted in Ivan Bunin, Memories and Portraits). To me, ending a story at the right moment is the toughest decision to make as a writer since that’s where your reader will leave your story and (hopefully) reflect on it deeply moved.

sarah

Sara McDaniel is a writer and teacher at Principia College. Photo by Hilary Harper.

This is why I admire the ending of Raymond Carver’s story “Cathedral.” Carver doesn’t prolong the ending, but stops the story as soon as his narrator experiences empathy. Earlier in the story, the narrator hears the blind man say, “Learning never ends. It won’t hurt me to learn.” But it is the narrator who learns something important when he draws a cathedral for the blind man whose hand touches his. He draws windows, arches, and buttresses. The blind man tells the narrator to close his eyes, and the narrator experiences the world through the blind man’s eyes, which forces him to see life in a new way, expand his horizons, and leave his isolation.  At the end, the blind man asks the narrator what he thinks of the drawing, and the narrator comments, “My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything. ‘It’s really something,’ I said.” Carver ends the story there.

Carver could have added more scenes to show how the moment with the blind man affects the narrator’s relationship with his wife, or he could have shown what happens after the blind man leaves. Instead Carver ends the story the moment the narrator experiences a deeper connection to another person. The ending statement, “It’s really something,” conveys the narrator’s awe, which deeply contrasts the narrator’s anecdotal and familiar tone in the beginning of the story. (“This man, an old friend of my wife’s, he was on his way to spend the night…I wasn’t enthusiastic about his visit.”)

In the beginning of the story, the narrator is an insecure, jealous man, who is emotionally detached from his wife and resentful towards the blind man. He narrates what he knows and fears about his wife’s connection to the blind man—how his wife let the blind man touch her face once (“He touched his fingers to every part of her face, her nose—even her neck!”), how she wrote a poem about it because she could never forget it, and how the narrator didn’t understand.

This touch resonates in the end as the narrator feels the blind man’s hand on his as he draws the cathedral. The ending moment not only reflects the beginning of the story but also coveys a transformation in the narrator from his earlier statement that he didn’t believe in anything. Carver’s ending shows enough for his reader to understand the narrator’s change without drawing it out, making Carver’s ending, as his narrator says, “really something.”

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Sara McDaniel teaches creative writing and literature at Principia College in Illinois. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte, North Carolina. During her undergraduate education, she received the Pittman Prose Award in 2008 and William Selmeier Literary Award in 2009. Currently, she is working on a collection of short stories.

Carver’s Cathedral: Different Interpretations at Different Stages of Life

Heidi Moore writes wonderfully re-imagined modern stories based on Greek mythology, among other things. She is also a medical doctor and non-fiction feature writer, as well as mother and wife and friend. It’s a pleasure to host her here on the blog as she takes on Carver’s ending of Cathedral:

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Raymond Carver has always been one of my favorite writers.  If I could choose a style to emulate, it would be the minimalist. In Cathedral, Carver writes sentences like, “She told me.” And “He was no one I knew.” I would love to get out of my own way when I’m writing and just say what needs to be said. But as much as I expect such straightforward prose to be transparent, it ends up being multi-layered, and the complexities have followed me through more than a decade (gasp) of re-readings.

Heidi Moore is a writer and pediatrician from upstate New York.

Heidi Moore is a writer and pediatrician from upstate New York.

The first time I experienced Cathedral, I was in college, and I couldn’t get past the fact that the characters were smoking pot in the story.  Pot!  Seriously?  (FYI, if you had been offered a million dollars to pick out a square at a party, you’d be ecstatic when I walked through the door.) I didn’t understand the concepts the professor talked about, all symbolism and theme, because his words smelled too much like skunk for me to understand.

Years later, probably during my own religious experience, I was struck by the way the narrator finally “saw” life and relationships, the way his own self-absorbed metaphorical blindness disappeared.  Of course during his own revelation he had no compunction about lying whether his eyes were open or not. Later though, (was I in a relationship crisis at the time?) I understood the insecurities of the narrator, the way his wife’s ex-husband or ex-employer could be valid threats to his happiness.

That leaves me with where I’m at now, and how I respond to the story after living with it for so many years, in so many stages of my own life.  Is it really fair to hold one story up against the stages of a person’s life and ask it to stand its ground? Maybe I’ve reamed the story out so many times that all that’s left is a shell, and I should just be grateful for all the substance I’ve consumed over the years. Either way, here’s my current impression, likely influenced by too many small group workshops and critiques of my own work, and regretfully said when the author can’t defend his actions.

I think the ending is too simple. The narrator has an epiphany at the end of Cathedral, and although I’ve had a few in my life (no I shouldn’t stay married to the man I wed as a teenager), the narrator of Cathedral seemed to come to his insights too easily. He should have reached his nirvana a few joints before he did. The blind man was too much of a sage, a tool for the narrator to use to get to a level of wisdom previously unattainable. Although I was happy with the ending before, now I want something nebulous, ambivalent, uncertain. No one comes to understand the meaning of life after a few tokes and an etch-a-sketch moment. At least that’s what I’m telling myself—in middle age, when I’ve had to give up on absolutes and certainties and concentrate on a whole lot of compromise and maybes and we’ll get back to yous.

We’ll see what I think next year.

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Dr. Heidi Moore is a recent graduate of Queens University with her MFA in Creative Writing. Her short story, Coydog, was featured in The Masters Review in 2012. Heidi is a practicing pediatrician in upstate New York, and she spends her life divided between medicine and writing. You can connect with her on Twitter @hj_moore.

Naming the Voice: Prejudice and Change in Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral”

Clifford Garstang wrote two of the best books I read last year (links at the end of this post) and I am happy to host his contribution to the discussion of Carver’s classic story, Cathedral.

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There are two aspects of Raymond Carver’s “Cathedral” that I always raise in a discussion with students. The more important of these is the voice of the narrator, but it also strikes me that the characters’ names are also significant.

We see just three characters in the story: the husband, the wife, and Robert, the blind man who comes to visit. Robert’s wife, Beulah, having just died, also has a presence. Somewhat in the background is the wife’s first husband, the Air Force officer. The only names we’re given, though, are Robert and Beulah. It may be that we don’t get the husband and wife’s names simply because the first-person narrator doesn’t think of himself by name—entirely natural—and he may also think of his wife merely as his wife. Especially at the beginning of the story, the husband is short on empathy and is inconsiderate of the feelings of both his wife and the blind man.

Clifford Garstang is the author of two of my favorite books I read last year: What the Zhang Boys Know and In an Uncharted Country.

Clifford Garstang is the author of two of my favorite books I read last year: What the Zhang Boys Know and In an Uncharted Country.

Robert and Beaulah, however, are unknown to the husband, and so their names are more a part of his impression of them. In fact, he thinks the name “Beaulah” sounds like a black name, and his image of Robert’s wife as possibly being black contributes to their otherness for him. The people who are very familiar to him—himself, his wife, even his wife’s first husband—are unnamed, but these strangers coming into his life, Robert and Beulah, have to be named. And Robert needs to have a name for the husband, but instead calls him “Bub,” no name at all, even though on two occasions the husband listens for Robert to use his name.  But there’s another aspect to the namelessness of husband and wife. While the named people represent something foreign, the unnamed may merely be stand-ins for all of us. After all, the husband’s prejudices about blind people—they all wear dark glasses, they don’t have beards, they don’t smoke, etc.—are human attributes. While we may not have these exact prejudices, we have others, and it’s not at all difficult to relate to the husband.

What really stands out in this story, however, is the voice of the narrator and his growth as a character. His attitude toward Robert is, at first, cringe-worthy. He speaks his thoughts without editing them. (“Maybe I could take him bowling,” he says, knowing this will upset his wife.) He is sorely misinformed about blind people—he admits that his idea of blindness comes from the movies—but it develops that he is similarly misinformed about other subjects and has a particular lack of curiosity. Gradually, over the course of the evening, as Robert shatters the husband’s prejudices, the change in the husband is apparent. He’s more polite. He keeps Robert’s Scotch glass filled. He offers to share a joint with Robert—something of a peace pipe that further breaks the barriers between them. And ultimately, of course, the two men both discover the art of the cathedral together. With his eyes closed, the husband admits, “It’s really something.”

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Clifford Garstang is the author of the prize-winning short story collection In an Uncharted Country (Press 53, 2009) and the novel in stories What the Zhang Boys Know (Press 53, 2012). About his first book, Tim O’Brien, author of The Things they Carried, said, “In an Uncharted Country is an impeccably written, sumptuously imagined, and completely enchanting book of stories. . .” John Casey, author of Spartina, called What the Zhang Boys Know “a wonderful and haunting book.”

Garstang’s work has appeared in Bellevue Literary Review, Blackbird, Cream City Review, Los Angeles Review, Shenandoah, Tampa Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, and elsewhere, and has received Distinguished Mention in the Best American Series. He won the 2006 Confluence Fiction Prize and the 2007 GSU Review Fiction Prize and has been awarded fellowships by the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference. He holds an MFA in Fiction from Queens University of Charlotte and is the co-founder and editor of Prime Number Magazine. He is also the author of the popular literary blog Perpetual Folly.

After receiving a BA in Philosophy from Northwestern University, Garstang served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in South Korea, where he taught English at Jonbuk University. He then earned an MA in English and a JD, magna cum laude, both from Indiana University, and practiced international law in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Singapore with one of the largest law firms in the United States. Subsequently, he earned a Master of Public Administration from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government and worked for Harvard Law School’s Program on International Financial Systems as a legal reform consultant in Almaty, Kazakhstan. From 1996 to 2001, he was Senior Counsel for East Asia at the World Bank in Washington, D.C., where his work focused on China, Vietnam, Korea, and Indonesia.

Garstang teaches creative writing at Writers.com and elsewhere. He currently lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

A Week With Raymond Carver’s Cathedral

Today marks the start of my third installment of the “A Week With…” series where I invite some of my favorite friends and writers to comment on a specific short story and then share their insights with you.

Flying buttresses galore: How do you describe a cathedral to a blind man? This week, the blog will focus on Raymond Carver's classic story, Cathedral.

Flying buttresses galore: How do you describe a cathedral to a blind man? This week, the blog will focus on Raymond Carver’s classic story, Cathedral.

This week we will focus on Raymond Carver’s classic story, Cathedral.

Whenever I share this story with writing students, I am amused by the very predictable, but varied responses I get. This is a tough story because the first person narrator is not really a likable fellow, in many ways, and he reminds us that we, too, aren’t always so likable. For some people, that reminder triggers a compassionate response: a sort of “there but for the grace of God go I” recognition. For others, that prospect of having an unlikable trait triggers a fists-up, fighting response. “Can you believe what a @$%&#! that guy is?”

And then, there is the ending of the story. Carver presents us with a moment of epiphany, but it is so well crafted that it is easy to overlook the heavy-handedness of the transformation.

My eyes were still closed. I was in my house. I knew that. But I didn’t feel like I was inside anything.

“It’s really something,” I said.

There is an online version of the story posted here (though I cannot vouch for the completeness or error-free nature of that copy) or you can purchase Carver’s Collected Stories if you wish.

Over the next four days, I’ll host comments and responses about Cathedral from writers Clifford Garstang, Sara McDaniel, Heidi Moore, and Brad Windhauser. I hope you enjoy it.

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If you missed any of the first two “A Week With…” posts, here is a recap:

In November, I started this series of focused blog posts with a discussion of Flannery O’Connor’s story, A Good Man is Hard to Find.

In December, we focused on You Were Perfectly Fine, by Dorothy Parker.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed these wonderful guest posts. Let me know. I’m planning to do more in the future, but knowing they are of value to you, dear reader, would be a wonderful incentive.

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 photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

A Week with You Were Perfectly Fine: Dramatic Irony vs. Antithetical Discourse

Belinda Nicoll is the author of the memoir, Out of Sync, as well as a writing and life coach. (You can read an earlier interview I did with Belinda about her book, Out of Sync.)

Check out her website at: www.myriteofpassage.com
Belinda blogs on the topics of writing, creativity coaching, and expatriation – http://myriteofpassage.wordpress.com/

I asked Belinda to contribute to this week’s discussion of Dorothy Parker’s short story, You Were Perfectly Fine, which I kicked off in yesterday’s blog post.

Dramatic Irony vs. Antithetical Discourse

by Belinda Nicoll

Author Belinda Nicoll.

Author Belinda Nicoll.

To what end do writers use humor and irony to develop tension, character, voice and plot? This question was posed by one of our instructors, Elissa Schappell, in the first semester of my Master of Fine Arts program at Queens University of Charlotte in 2010.  Her instruction guided us to look at “how wit reveals truths, heightens perception of reality, and permits the ‘un-sayable’ to be said.” We were given a list of short stories to explore for our first assignment: an essay on literary craft. You Were Perfectly Fine by Dorothy Parker was one of them—in summary: ostensibly, a “pale young man” and “clear-eyed girl” are discussing the events of the night before; he has a hangover and can’t remember a thing, so she fills him in, and through their discordant dialogue the reader not only learns about his drinking problem but gains insight into their awkward relationship.

In reading the prescribed texts for Schappell’s workshop, the introduction of my craft response said this: I enjoyed discovering the power of humor and irony as techniques for creating multi-layered stories. It was interesting to see the different ways in which the writers had used the technique, some going for laugh-out-loud humor, others for witty characters or ironic plot twists. Obviously, some achieved the technique better than others.

About Parker’s story specifically, I said this: If handled with expertise, an author can reveal a story’s conclusion early without diminishing the tension and drama of the telling. Dorothy Parker does exactly that by creating an instant contradiction between the title of her story, You Were Perfectly Fine, and the protagonist’s obvious hangover, thus setting up the reader from the outset to expect the opposite of what the title claims. Through a mismatched conversation between the two characters, Parker holds the reader’s attention by untying the ironic knots one at a time, slowly and deliciously unfolding the man’s real dilemma: in his intoxicated condition, he’d asked the girl to marry him—the ultimate incompatible outcome of their awkward relationship.

Now, a year after my graduation, I’m asked to look at Parker’s story again to see what literary technique it demonstrates well. Although I’m still of the same opinion with respect to Parker’s masterful use of irony (the WHAT), I’m more able to discern her method (the HOW)—a kind of antithetical, as opposed to rational, discourse that highlights the disconnect between the characters who are clearly a mismatched couple.

Whereas dramatic irony is defined as a trope that involves incongruity between what is expected and what occurs, an antithesis refers to two contrasting meanings in close proximity to one another, usually two words or phrases within one sentence—a famous example: “When Neil Armstrong walked on the moon it might have been one small step for a man but it was one giant leap for mankind.” Clearly, Parker’s couple is out of sync; yet, listening to them is like watching a dance. The “pale young man” says, “Oh, dear, oh, dear, oh, dear. Oh.” The “clear-eyed girl” asks, “Not feeling so well today?” He responds, “Oh, I’m great.” As the story progresses, Parker deftly builds tension by dispensing their out-of-sync responses in quick succession. Using this antithetical discourse, Parker manages to turn her story into the proverbial Laurel and Hardy comedy—a great accomplishment considering satire is a literary form people all over the world can relate to.

The process, and result, of analyzing Parker’s text once more serves as a reminder that our discernment of literature is not stagnant; and as we evolve as readers, so we do as writers too.

In case you missed it: A Good Man is Hard to Find

Earlier today I kicked off my December guest blog blizzard which will focus on Dorothy Parker’s short story, You Were Perfectly Fine.

In November, I hosted several of my favorite writer friends in a discussion of Flannery O’Connor’s story, A Good Man is Hard to Find.

Just in case you missed some of the posts, I’ve collected them all below, with links.

Thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed these wonderful guest posts. Let me know. I’m planning to do more in the future, but knowing they are of value to you, dear reader, would be a wonderful incentive.