Interview with Yannick Murphy: 'The Call' began as short story
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Interview with Yannick Murphy: 'The Call' began as short story

Jan 23, 2012

By now you're probably well into Yannick Murphy's "The Call," this year's pick for "A Tale for Three Counties."

Perhaps you've even finished it. And now you have some questions. Maybe we have some answers.

Murphy talks about the origins of "The Call" in the interview posted today.

(Still, we encourage you to come out and ask your own questions when Murphy visits March 22 to 24 for a series of talks and book signings in Genesee, Orleans and Wyoming counties. And book discussions featuring "The Call" begin next month -- a chance to talk about the book and gain some insight from other readers ahead of Murphy's visits.)

In "The Call," Murphy explores a family's struggle to maintain stability after its eldest son is seriusly injured in a hunting accident. Her novel is presented in the form of a veterinarian's log that reveals the man's work and thoughts as he tries to understand what is happening to his family.

Murphy's book was revealed last November as the 2012 Tale book, and she corresponded via email in advance of the official announcement to explain her approach to the book, revealing that it had originally begun as a short story. Some of those comments appeared in a story published Nov. 15. Here is the full text of the email interview:

What inspired you to write "The Call"?

I first had the idea to write 'The Call' because Dave Eggers, who started McSweeney's Publishing, published an earlier novel of mine called' Here They Come,' and he wanted me to write a Sci-Fi piece for a McSweeney's Quarterly issue that they were conjuring up in San Francisco.

What came to mind were two things -- one, I had been toying with the idea of writing a piece that was written in my husband's voice. (As a horse doctor who makes calls he comes home with fascinating stories about the animals and the people on the farms he visits throughout the day.) The second thing that came to my mind when Dave Eggers asked me for a sci-fi story is that for the past couple of months we had been seeing a spaceship flying low around our house.

Was it really a spaceship? No, probably not, but it was fun to tell our children that it might be. My husband and I guessed at what it could be -- probably some military drone being sent out for test flights in our remote woods.

I knew one thing that it was -- it was a way for me to have my cake and eat it too. I would write the piece for Dave Eggers as a story, and there would be this spaceship in it that this veterinarian and his family would see on and off. When I finished the piece I sheepishly mailed it to Dave Eggers. Of course it wasn't a sci-fi story at all, but hey, I thought to myself, at least there was a spaceship in it. (By the way, apparently other writers Dave asked to write a sci-fi story couldn't come up with one either, because the idea for the issue never came to fruition, and my story was published in the next issue of McSweeney's which turned out to be a regular issue, without a sci-fi theme.)

Why did you choose the unusual format for the story?

I'm not sure how the idea to write the book in a log form first came to mind. Maybe the conscious mind is continually bombarded with inane ideas from the unconscious mind and sometimes, rarely, those inane ideas sneak past the barrier and are actually considered as reasonable by the conscious mind. This may be the case when I came up with the idea to write the story in the form of a log where my husband recorded not only his visits to farms throughout the day, but also his thoughts and ruminations about the happenings in his own life, and the lives of his clients.

I could see no better way to the story of a man, who, at times clinical and precise, but who also clearly enjoys moments of levity, was going to react to experiences that would test his emotions and the emotional balance of his family. The only way for him to figure all of it out was to discuss it in a way that he, a doctor, would be comfortable with - the log form.

-How much has your husband's experiences as a veterinarian influenced the experiences of the vet in "The Call"?

My husband, besides being a veterinarian, is a good storyteller, so when he comes home and he's standing in our kitchen in his muddy boots, with a blade of hay poking from his hair, and possibly some blood on his hands from a castration, or a gash he had to sew up on a horse who decided to go through a fence, he weaves such a tale that I'd be stupid not to "borrow" it from him and re-work it using my own words. At times, when I go with my husband on his calls, he can get the most laconic of farmers or horse owners to talk about their life story, and so I don't have to do anything but listen because my husband is naturally interested in their stories and gets them to do all the talking. I like to call it "writer's windfall".

Your writing has included children's books, short stories, and novels. Why have you sought out such variety of styles?

Most writers, when they first start writing, start out writing short stories. Somehow it's easier to start out small, with a smaller set of issues to address when learning how to construct and handle a piece of fiction.

Short stories were my first love, they capture a moment, and I don't think I'll ever stop writing them because I'm always trying to hone the skill involved that it takes to distill that moment down so that it's crystalline and effective as possible.

The children's picture books I write are very similar to short stories, they also capture a moment, and when I started having children, it seemed like a natural progression to write stories that also captured a moment that they could understand.

Novels were also a natural progression from short stories, simply because I had more to say on certain subjects. For example, I wasn't satisfied leaving 'The Call' as a short story, my husband kept coming home day after day, and standing in our kitchen with his muddy boots with even better stories than the ones he had told the day before that I wished I had included in the short story that had already gone to print.

Have you participated in one-city/one-book or other community reading projects before?

This is will be my first!

How do you, as the autho,r benefit from participating in a community reading program?

The honor of being asked to participate in a community reading program goes a long way with me. It inspires the current writing I'm doing so that I approach my work with renewed energy, that without any recognition, I might not have done so easily. It also puts in perspective, what so often writers lose sight of, the fact that we are not just writing for ourselves in a room alone, and not just for the occasional reader who may pick up our book off a shelf, but that we are actually reaching large groups of people who may be interested in our writing and ideas and discussing them with others. Because of this, I think it encourages writers to write at a level which demands more effort, and produces unique results, and writing that will stand the test of time.

The collective nature of the community reading program sounds fascinating. I'd like to know if and how it affects the community when it's all reading and discussing "The Call" at the same time. I guess that's a question I'll have for all of you when I arrive. Looking forward to it.



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