In The Field: Conversations With Our Contributors–Sean McCarthy
1. Tell us about your short story in Volume 20. How did it come to be?
I thought about this story for a long time before I began writing it. I’ve worked for years—in various roles—in the mental health field, and I’ve always been interested in the family dynamic and how it pertains to someone suffering from mental illness. Stories of lives prior to the break of a loved one can be fascinating in both tragic and inspiring ways. The fictional Babeckis family is a big one, and I’ve written stories about several of the other members—some appearing in magazines such as Fifth Wednesday Journal, South Dakota Review, and Red Savina Review–and I wanted to give Roger a chance to tell his.
2. What was an early experience that led to you becoming a writer?
My parents are both avid readers, and I began making weekly trips to the library with them at a very early age. I’ve always been fascinated, and sometimes saddened, about the passage of time, how quickly it goes, and I wanted a way to capture and preserve the past, and one of the best ways to do that is through writing. I began keeping a daily journal and wrote a lot of bad poetry in college. I was a psychology major but I signed up for a Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction class on a whim my spring semester senior year, and fell in love with writing fiction overnight. Then I began banging my head a little as it was obviously too late to change my major, so I went back and got a Master’s [degree] in writing. I like to think both degrees have contributed to my writing though.
3. How has writing shaped your life?
When my kids—there are six of them––were little, writing for me didn’t usually start until late at night, after they all went to bed, but now, with them older, I can write earlier, and tend to the business side of writing at night; either way, I’ve done my best for years to make time for it every day, and most days don’t feel complete unless I’ve worked on something. It’s made me pay much closer attention to personalities, the way people talk and of course, trying to figure out the way they think; some puzzles are much harder than others.
4. What books, writers, art, or artists inspire you and your work?
After college, I was pretty much just writing horror stories until I picked up a copy of Hemingway’s First Forty Nine Short Stories at the old Victor Hugo bookstore on Newbury Street in Boston, and then that changed everything. Writers who inspire me are far too many to count, but offhand I’d cite Guy de Maupassant, Breece D’J Pancake, [James] Joyce, Karen Russell, Kazuo Ishiguro, Alice Hoffman, Shirley Jackson, William Trevor, Tobias Wolff, Tom Jones. Easy to keep going. And I’m not sure you can beat the last lines of A River Runs Through It, or “The Dead.” [Also] The Quiet American. As far as painters, I’ve always loved Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent, Peter Paul Rubens, and Edward Hopper. And for music, Bach, Pink Floyd, and [Bob] Dylan for lyrics.
5. What projects or pieces are you working on right now?
I’m working on a speculative fiction novel right now which I have fairly high hopes for. I’ve always loved ghost stories, and I enjoy bringing elements of the supernatural into much of what I write. I’m also revising an older fictional memoir, and working on a few new short stories. I like to have a few things going at once and that way if you get stuck, or blocked, in one piece, you can just pull out another and keep going. There’s always something to write about.