ALL THINGS LITERARY. ALL THINGS NATURAL.

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Saturday, February 27, 2016

Colleen, the Irish Girl, Meets Katherine Anne Porter, O. Henry, and David Sedaris



Well, Colleen didn’t really meet Porter or Henry, but she met David Sedaris. Colleen, a figment of Tim Johnson’s imagination, came to life on the pages of a short story, with her stunning white teeth and big green eyes. A Foosball wizard, the mere touch of her hand could set the heart of a teenage boy on fire. Here’s a look inside the title story:

      Charlie gripped his left hand in his right, remembering the Foosball game. His heart would not slow down. 
     “I like the girl,” he said. 
     “Colleen?” 
     He turned and William smiled and Charlie saw a light in his eyes he hadn’t seen in so long he’d forgotten it even existed. 
     “You know what her name means?” William asked. 
     It was the light, Charlie realized, from the nights when they shared a room and William told stories and they had no idea that one of them was adopted. 
     “What’s it mean?” he asked. 
     William took a deep drag on the cigarette and stared out the windshield. “Means, Irish girl.”

When David Sedaris (NPR humorist and best-selling author of Me Talk Pretty One Day) read Irish Girl, his heart skipped a beat too. He touted Irish Girl during his entire 2010 book tour, sometimes reading from it instead of from his own work.

I met Tim Johnston a few weeks ago at the historic Oxford Hotel in Denver during The Tattered Cover’s annual Writers Respond to Readers event. Johnston was there to talk about his new literary thriller, Descent (set in the majestic and forbidding Rocky Mountains). “It’s a page turner,” someone in the audience said.

“Work on a book for 6 or 7 years,” Tim responded, “and it’s anything but a page turner.”

Tim won the Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction for Irish Girl, and the prestigious O. Henry Prize. But first, Tim had to envision, and then write each story. “If you want to write,” Tim told the audience, “then read.”

Someone asked, “The pacing of the language is so intense. How can you write with such intensity if it took you almost 7 years?”

“I never wrote unless I had an entire day,” Tim answered. “But even when I wasn’t writing for an entire year, I was thinking about the book. And I took Hemingway’s advice. Always stop at a juncture where you are in the middle of knowing where you’re going—that way you can hit the ground running.”

The path a book or a short story takes into the hands of the reader fascinates me. The writer’s path, of course, can be even more circuitous. Many of us began traveling that path when we were young, perhaps younger than Colleen, or Charlie, or William.  

But it was reading that first set us on that path, some character in some story who set our heart on fire, some sequestered meadow or cobblestone street. Some Anne of Green Gables or Robinson Crusoe. Always, writing begins on a trail already marked with the tracks of other brave souls who dared to venture forth into the world of storytelling.

Note to Tim: Thank you for letting me steal this photo off your FB page. Note to Readers: You can start reading Descent HERE.  You can read all of the short story "Irish Girl" HERE.  Read submission guidelines for Katherine Anne Porter prize HERE.