"Are You My Father?" by Lawrence F. Farrar
Issue #25 / February 2017
Illustrated by Pierre-Paul Pariseau
LAWRENCE F. FARRAR is a former US diplomat with multiple assignments in Japan as well as postings in Germany, Norway, and Washington, DC. He also lived in Japan as a graduate student and as a naval officer. His stories have appeared nearly 50 times in literary magazines such as The Chaffin Journal, Zone 3, Streetlight, Curbside Splendor E-Zine, Big Muddy, Tampa Review Online, O-Dark-Thirty, Jelly Bucket, The MacGuffin, and Green Hills Literary Lantern. His stories often involve people coming up against the customs of a foreign culture.
"On a Saturday afternoon in 1993 Owen Stubbins stood in his backyard garden and stared dejectedly at his dead and dying rose bushes—mites, bugs, whatever. You win some, you lose some, and some get rained out. Except, Owen believed he always lost. On this occasion, his horticultural efforts a flop, he trudged up the low back step and went into his house. The afternoon stretched empty before him, as it always did.
In the kitchen he poured a glass of milk and sliced a bagel. When the bagel halves popped up from the toaster, he slathered them with cream cheese and munched away at a leisurely pace, almost as if trying to consume time as much as boiled and baked wheat. A fifty-year-old confirmed bachelor—confirmed by circumstance, not by volition—Owen had maintained a near-solitary existence for twenty-five years. He resignedly conceded his life was a lonely one. But, he convinced himself, it was at least an orderly, predictable life.
He had outfitted his unpretentious San Diego bungalow with furnishings acquired mostly at bargain prices. His neatly made bed, really little more than a cot, reminded him of the one he’d slept on in the Yokota AF Base barracks twenty-five years before. A fang-baring tiger on black silk, something he’d picked up in a Tokyo souvenir shop, served as his single wall hanging. Owen’s mother denounced the painting as a tribute to bad taste, but Owen was fond of it. Owen had a penchant for reading, and paperbacks and magazines cascaded out of a too-full bookcase. He was deep into The Bridges of Madison County. Plunging into the pages of a book and staying there helped move the hours along. Owen also relished the challenge of crossword puzzles, although he’d given up on the New York Times—too hard. Owen had a rotary phone which, save for solicitors’ calls, rarely rang. He possessed neither a television set nor a computer. He reckoned his portable Sony radio gave him all necessary access to the world, and he deemed the computer a passing electronic fad...
Q&A with Lawrence F. Farrar
What inspired the development of Owen Stubbins' character?
Of course, much of what we write is the product of an imagination that, consciously or unconsciously, exploits our life’s experience as a go-to source. In my case, a diplomatic career, including many years of living abroad, has provided a treasure trove of characters, adventures, drama, and insights into the human condition. Especially during my early days in Japan, it was difficult not to become aware of the many children fathered by American GIs and left behind. Years later, I was told one of my former colleagues had been surprised at his doorstep by a young woman who identified herself as his daughter which, in fact, she was. Hence, the inspiration for Owen Stubbins.
How did you arrive at the decision to shift perspectives near the end of the story?
Why the shift in perspective? In my 60 or so stories I have rarely changed perspectives. Indeed, I originally intended to end this one with Owen sitting alone and contemplating all that had happened. But the story I had in mind was more complicated; I wanted somehow to provide more character-specific treatment to Mari. It really is her story, too. I wanted to let the reader see what she is thinking. I probably was also influenced by the fact I am at work on a novel which involves alternating points of view. I think the differing perspectives of the two characters is key to the story.
Near the end of the story, the reader is allowed a glimpse into Mari's conscience, and in particular, her guilt for what she's done. Based on how both Owen and Mari reflect on their transgressions, is it possible to draw a connection between the two despite their obvious differences?
In my mind, an important link between Owen and Mari is that, despite their transgressions, and for different reasons, they are both sympathetic characters. Aware of his own weakness and having for many years carried the burden of guilt for abandoning his Japanese girlfriend, Owen wants to do the right thing while simultaneously filling a void in an otherwise empty existence. For her part, Mari has had a difficult life and clearly feels a sense of shame for what she is doing. She, too, has a void she wishes to fill.
Which authors have have the greatest influence on your writing?
As for authors influencing my writing, the candidates are all the familiar ones. Tobias Wolff, Tim O’Brien, John O’Hara, Wallace Stengner, Ellen Gilchrist, and Ernest Hemmingway, among others. Over time, I have immersed myself in the work of these and other writers and absorbed what I could, while aiming to retain my own voice. I have also been influenced by films; one I particularly liked is Ikiru (To Live), a Japanese classic about a little guy who takes on the system to do something meaningful for society in his final days. (Perhaps a bit of Owen comes from here, too.)
What are you currently reading, and should we read it as well?
What am I reading? By coincidence - or perhaps not so coincidentally – much of my recent reading seems to have been informed by the prevailing political climate. I am midway through Spain in our Hearts (Americans against fascism in the Spanish Civil War). I also recently re-read Farwell to Manzanar (a small book on the Japanese-American internment during WWII) and No-No Boy (a novel about a Japanese-American sent to prison for refusing to serve in the military). I am also part way through Lost Japan (which evokes images of a Japan now gone, submerged by the rush of modernity). Ought you to read these? You could do worse.
Pierre-Paul Pariseau was very eager to create the cover illustration for your story? How do you think it turned out?
Couldn’t ask for a better piece of cover art. It very much captures the essence of this story. Love it.
Q&A with Pierre-Paul Pariseau
Which artists have had the most direct influence on your own work?
The biggest influence early in my career were the surrealist artists such as Dali, Magritte and others. At that time, I enjoyed everything that could be labeled surrealist, not only paintings but in literature, poetry and movies as well. Photomontage pioneers like John Heartfield, Max Ernst, and Jacques Prévert would play a pivotal role in shaping my artistic vision.
Could you describe for us the process of interpreting Lawrence F. Farrar’s short story into a single visual image? Were there any deviations from your typical process by creating from narrative text?
I’ll describe step-by-step, as clearly as possible, how I created the cover illustration. This is the typical process that I undertake for most of my work. Then I gather all kinds of cutouts that are related to the subject. I have many boxes full of these cutouts in my studio, more or less classified by category. I also look in magazines and other sources to find more elements if needed. While scavenging for these, I try to keep my mind open in case I find something interesting that is not necessarily related to the subject but may nevertheless prove to be useful. It is important to surprise myself, not to arrive absolutely at the end with the picture I had in my mind when I started. Many times (but not always), in the end, the best pictures/illustrations are the ones that I invented during the process, not having a clear idea in mind at the beginning.
After I have gathered, more or less, the necessary images that I’ll need to begin with, I scan each cutout and apply, in Photoshop, a high contrast of black and white to them (which essentially removes their colors). To achieve the perfect contrast, I sometimes have to do it in parts on the same piece. Then I make each item transparent. It is on a similar shape, underneath, that I place the color. I repeat this for all the scanned elements. I compose the picture like this, piece by piece. Of course I often go back to search for the best cutouts needed to complete the image and take out those I don’t think really fit. Oftentimes, the challenge is to find the good vibration of the image, to understand how everything fits the best together, like the director of a movie or theatrical performance.
The colors can be added also by placing a hand-made layer of watercolor, acrylic paint, color pencil, etc., under the black-and-white layer that is now transparent. These colors can be used independently also, without a top layer. Lines done with pencils can be added, and so on. I use my pen tablet from time to time. Of course there can be other features I use in Photoshop depending on the need, but basically this is how I work. When I think the picture is done I “let it sleep” a bit and come back to it later on (after a good walk outside for example) to look at it with a fresher mind. I can then make a last minute change if necessary. I wish that my illustration can question, amuse, create a smile, puzzle and, of course, stimulate the reader to read the story.
What would you call your proudest artistic achievement thus far in your career?
To have lasted this long as an artist.
Aside from other artists, where do you turn to for inspiration?
A lot of things enter my life through my surroundings to a point where it is difficult to name anything in particular. I always carry a notebook with me in which I can write (mainly) and draw ideas for new images, for titles of work, etc...