In one way or another, all of these stories embrace Truth. It is the “other exaggeration’ in the title that distinguish them from other, equally demonstrable truths. Mostly, however, they are written because all creative writing exists in order to entertain, in the broadest sense of the term. If a story doesn’t entertain, i.e. is not enjoyable, it doesn’t get read twice. “Enjoy” doesn’t mean prompting a good laugh so much as finding satisfaction in reading a story. It maybe the joy of recognition in hearing a familiar note or being challenged to deeper thought. Readers may find recognizable aspects of either own experiences or be exposed to ideas that pose challenges because they are so new.
Some happenings in a story may become embedded because readers disagree with the way a character acts or, just the opposite, because the character’s motivations are in accordance with the readers. The degree of enjoyment from a story is in direct proportion to the reader’s engagement; in other words, readers get as much out of reading as they put into it. Question: Can a story like “Onion Peeled” with flashbacks of burglary, arson, treachery, betrayal, and murder be entertaining? How about “The Wall” which is replete with undetected crime? Perhaps the best answer is to read the stories and see if they are entertaining.
All writing is experimental (this seems obvious; otherwise all writing would be the same), but some are even more experimental. Several of these stories create style by the omission of articles or the verb ‘to be’ and by dealing with memories that haunt. “Glass, Darkly” and “Onion Peeled” move backwards into time, seeking comfort or redemption. These relatively short stories run the gamut of subjects and styles from autobiographical to zany and from whole cloth, because I believe that all creative writing is basically autobiographical. “The Iris of Tumair” stems from a drive I took with a friend into the deserts of Saudi Arabia while I was teaching there. It would be non-fiction had I not organized and edited the facts to make it into a story.
And I did spend a few days having my car repaired in Sutherland, Nebraska, from which I embroidered “The Gap”. The idea that human behavior is always suspect gave way during the writing of the story to the fact that people are basically honest in the long run and not ‘out to get you’ as the story teller feels at the outset. The idea of character change is crucial in this story and, indeed, all of these tales. The title story in this collection uses actual people, places, and events as background for inventions. For “Off Tracks”, “Snails and Water Cress”, “Clerical Error”, and “The Wall”, I superimposed the workings of my imagination upon real locations: Palmer Park in Detroit. Artificial Pond on the Michigan State Normal College (now, Eastern Michigan University) campus, my bank, and downtown Ypsilanti, Michigan.
My sister, cousin, and I ran a pop-stand when we were kids, but for “The Pop Stand War” I reorganized the facts and smudged a few of them to fit the theme. Writers, and all artists, do that; they eliminate some details and introduce others to mold their work into literary shape. The parallel of the events in “Pop Stand War” to the reality of wars that America has faced never occurred to our little group until I made the facts of our summer activity fir into the patterns of actual wars. Indeed, the Germans and Japanese people mentioned in the story may have been arming themselves during the time the three of us were selling pop and fending off intruders, but we were quite a few years short of knowing anything about such things. “The Seven Deadly Sins” is written in a style influenced by James Thurber (whose methods are evident to a lesser degree in several of these stories.)
The idea of covetousness is carried to a high degree here ending in major upset for the main character but not for his wife. “The Analyst” depends largely on facts as I remember them but has a what-might-have-happened ending. Depending on how readers interpret the ending. It is one of the most sinister stories I have written. Taking in another way, it’s an autobiographical depiction of some of my growing-up incidents and thoughts. The element of mystery enters into all of my stories to some degree but is perhaps strongest in this one leaving readers to form their own opinions. “With Friends Like These” arises from the two years I taught in Saudi Arabia. Khalid being a composite of several Arab students I came to know. The story is placed on the campus of Eastern Michigan University and an invented hamburger joint in Ypsilanti that really exists.
“Poison Ivy War” grows out of having lived through an unpopular, immoral war, a thinly disguised allegory, the most political piece included here. Further stretched from reality, humor pieces “Damn Lazy Cat”, “The Seven Deadly Sins”, “Tradition”, and “Why You Never Married” aim at being funny, but one would need to know the author to discover the extent to which they are autobiographical. In a sense. “Infinity” is based on actual people I have known in writers’ groups, and the works discussed in the story are real, but I’ve made caricatures of my friends, not making fun of them, but exaggerating their most outstanding qualities. Even further removed from reality is the expressionist piece, “These Two” It doesn’t depend heavily on locations but on a developmental series of experiences which result in conflict and a kind of resolution.
Although drawn with a composite morphing of four friends, “Ominous Oak” least represents reality, depends wholly upon invention, and recalls no time or place or events from my conscious memory. Nor does “Somp’n Like That”, although the character, and the man in “Only Fools Get Caught” do not exist beyond the realm of possibility. They are caricatures of men who act badly. The longest story in this group is “Survival Kit” which has the main character growing up the product of a war-torn world. He survives, but doesn’t realize what WWII has done to him. The events include some unhealthy behavior, sexual deviation, dishonesty, and cruelty and is as much a tale of war, creating more problems than it solves, as it is of misspent youth.