Tree: Okay, we're ready for question #2, continuing our exploration of the scenes behind the scenes of your stories, and here it is!
Transport one of your characters to his/her dying days. Using first person, talk about a moment (or two or three) when this character was happiest, when something "clicked." In other words, what are one or several things in life that brought him/her some happiness in spite of everything?
Susan: Very cool question! Ok, I'll go with the character Maura, in Elvis Out of The Meditation Garden.
Tree: Before we read more about Maura's dying thoughts, could you fill us in a bit on her background?
In the story she's a young woman in her twenties, kind of sweet and not especially interested in her boyfriend Ramey, who is pressuring her to marry him. But Maura is very interested in Elvis, who they've stolen from his grave, and transported to their Elm Street Community Theatre, for a special Elvis musical event. For the purpose of answering your question, Maura is now in her forties.
Whoever knew that living near power lines could cause you so much trouble? I was just so happy to finally have a house, a nice old white clapboard house. For about the first decade we lived here, I never really paid attention to the phone lines and all that electricity strung pole to pole through the back yards.
I was busy raising our twins, Julie and Jim, while my husband Mark was on the road a lot. Sales. I never liked when he had to leave, it worried me, not that I'm afraid of being alone, but I worried about the women. There are always women around men who travel. Elvis traveled. Priscilla must've spent a lot of time alone with Lisa Marie.
But back when I knew Elvis, that short while at the theatre, I'll confess I wasn't really thinking about Priscilla. Sure, her name had come up a few times but she was history. I wasn't. I was there and Elvis was there and it was magic! He had touched my breast! Held onto it. Until my boyfriend Ramey made him let go.
Now I touch where my breast used to be and hold my breath remembering.
If only I had figured out a way to be alone with Elvis before he had to leave us. I should have gotten Ramey out of the theatre on some pretense. I should have led Elvis over to the pink velvet couch from our Arsenic and Old Lace production. I know Elvis would have followed me.
I knew it then and still know it. Nothing can take that away. I touch my phantom breast again and I can feel Elvis inside me, deep in my body. That makes me rest more easily.
Tree: When I read this story, I think "magical realism." Did you consciously write this story to fit into this category? Is this a school of writing you are interested in?
Susan: Magical realism is wonderful! I love the stories of Garcia Marquez, which I read intermittently. I have written a few pieces that I suppose could be put into that genre. One is a story called "Above the Clouds Midnight Passes" which was published by Crannog Magazine in Ireland, and inspired by seeing a Max Ernst exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. What an incredible painter!
But I have to say I don't consciously choose which way a story goes. The Elvis story could have turned out to be one that takes place while he's alive. But somehow his wanting whiter teeth forced it into the present. And, of course he's dead! So the story had to become whimsical on some plane. Here's what I remember about the "Elvis" story. I woke up with the first line in my mind and could picture Elvis saying it. I typed that first line and the rest followed. I'd be happy to have someone call this story Magical Realism.
Tree: Well, Magical Realism is one of my favorite genres and I think this story definitely has an honored place there. Thank you, Susan. I look forward to your answer to tomorrow's question, when we pry into your writing habits! Until then!