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Exploring the art of prose

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Author: Shayne Terry


Author’s Note

I began this story in the summer of 2018 when I was thinking about having a baby. I started writing with no plan or preconceived ideas, and the plot that unfolded exposed my subconscious in a way that was embarrassingly obvious. My fears about motherhood manifested in Francine, her loss and her extreme grief. My mind, at the time, was asking, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

The difference between fiction and writing as a therapeutic exercise is the next question: “Then what?” While I was pregnant that fall and winter, I fleshed out the story and allowed Francine and Peter and Ernest and Billy and Linda to become their own people, with their own complicated relationships and memories and motivations that were very different from my own. The story grew beyond my fears.

In the spring of 2019, I workshopped an early draft with the Rumble Ponies Writing Collective, which is now defunct but lives forever in my heart. In late June of 2019, I workshopped a revised draft with my CRIT cohort. The conversation inevitably turned to the question: “But what does grief really look like?” Wrestling with grief in a workshop setting requires vulnerability and care, and I am indebted to both of these groups for their willingness to show up for me and for their incisive critiques.

I gave birth later that summer and this story, which at the time went by the working title “Pistachios,” sat untouched for over a year while I dealt with the afterbirth—the physical healing, the emotional turmoil, and the very real struggle of returning to work too early in a country that has not yet seen the value in paid family leave. I had my notes and knew where I wanted to take Francine and Father Ernest, but I did not have the time.

And then there was a global pandemic. In the fall of 2020, when I finally sat down to revise again, Francine’s aversion to buying toilet paper in bulk hit totally differently. Oh, Francine! If you had only known what was coming!

At the same time, the characters felt more alive to me than ever. It was during this final revision that I added some of the details that make them who they are: Father Ernest’s bay rum aftershave, Peter’s abstention from alcohol, Francine’s future cat. The Hawaiian sweet rolls. I knew that we needed to witness Father Ernest take pure pleasure in the sweet rolls, something sensory but also sensual. I knew he had to experience childlike joy on the page in order for Francine—and the reader—to want to believe in his innocence.

Stories are built around what the characters know and don’t know and what the reader knows and doesn’t know. Ultimately, the question of whether Father Ernest is one of those priests is left unanswered. The reader is put in the position of judge only to find themselves ill-equipped. Resolutions elude us. A lot like life.

I write this from the beginning of a fresh wave of the virus here in New York City. This is not what I expected my child’s first years to look like. It does not feel like there is an end in sight. And yet, we keep telling stories and finding ways to end them, then finding ways to start again.

 


SHAYNE TERRY’s work has appeared in Catapult, Electric Literature, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. Born and raised in northern Illinois, she now lives in Brooklyn. Find more of her fiction at shayneterry.com and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @shaynester.