Once upon a time, in those long-ago, pre-Internetified days we can hardly even remember anymore, after a writer had a story or poem picked up by one of the small literary magazines, that was that. Unless the piece became part of a larger collection or was selected for one of the annual anthologies, its readers were just the magazine’s subscribers and those rare birds (possibly extinct now) who picked up literary magazines in bookstores.
With Redux, editor Leslie Pietrzyk gives “work worth a second run” new readers, new eyes, new audiences. “Household Tales,” a story of mine first published in the Yale Review in 2001, is up on Redux this week.
One of the interesting things Redux does is ask writers to tell a little bit of “the story behind the story” being reprinted. The genesis of “Household Tales”?
I wrote “Household Tales” not long after I moved back to the U.S. from Germany during a period when I was lucky enough to hold a six-month fellowship at Paisano, an old white-sided ranch house on 254 undeveloped acres in the hill country outside Austin, Texas.
Before Paisano housed a writers residency program, it was the weekend retreat of J. Frank Dobie, the noted Texas folklorist. When I was there, the house still contained copies of the books he had written, his personal desk, and the blue-and-white china he’d used. Every day, I spread my writing on a long rough-hewn table where writers had been sitting down to work for over thirty years. Some mornings, white-tail deer picked their way across the yard outside the window like a bevy of belles on their way home from a dance. Some evenings, I sat down in front of the fireplace stained with 160 years’ of woodsmoke and read the folktales Dobie had collected.
If an environment like that doesn’t insert itself into what you’re writing sooner rather than later, you’re made of sterner stuff than I am. How could I not think about the sorts of stories we choose to tell ourselves?“Household Tales” is the result of that time, and that place. It’s an attempt to refashion elements of folktale, ghost stories, and westerns —old stories we think we know by heart — to weave a new fairy tale, one that is both a meditation on the stories we retell over and over and the narrative of a single wedding and the baggage bystanders and participants alike bring to it.