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.