Image: James Farl Powers, 1917-1999
Dappled Things has announced the finalists for its 2022 J.F. Powers Prize for Fiction, and I am one of the 28 authors selected.
“Well, now,” I said to myself, “I sometimes do interviews with other writers. Why not do one with me? An auto-interview?”
So here it is, with inspiration from interview subjects near and far, young and old, Catholic and Mennonite…
What drew you to this contest?
That is an excellent question. You are not only handsome but wise. Okay, here’s what Dappled Things say about the content they seek for the periodical.
That appealed to my sense of loftiness. Of aiming high. So that’s what I did — with the story and with the submission.
Were you, a Mennonite, concerned by the fact that the publication and the J.F. Powers contest are sponsored by an organization that is “Wholeheartedly Catholic?” Did this fact change your approach to the story?
Not concerned, as much as intrigued. In my experience in South Eastern Manitoba where disparate small towns dot the farmland, there are many predominantly Mennonite, Lutheran, Catholic, and Ukrainian places. Despite coming from distinctly homogenous communities, each with its own dominant religion, people somehow always end up mingling. Whether it is through work, play, school or — inevitably — romance, intersections are created and blending results. Not right away, but over time. I saw this many times in my own family and beyond.
In this way, my story about a mixed Catholic and Mennonite family with a close sibling relationship between two of the children seemed to be a natural fit for the ethos of Dappled Things and the J.F. Powers Prize.
Did it change my approach? No. In fact, the merging of two, I would say, strong faiths, plus the fact that the early “Mennists” grew out of the Catholic religion makes the religious undercurrent in the story a strengthening factor and one that adds an interesting complexity.
Does religion play a major role in your story?
No. Religion is there, the same way the Manitoba prairie is there, to offer context and grounding. In fact, I can’t see how the story could have “got out of its own way” if religion would have been the central theme. I wanted the characters’ inner humanity and the always present tension between our selfish desires and our innate generosity and compassion towards others to be the core conflict. Describing where that generosity comes from is not part of my authorial responsibility. I’m just there to tell a clear story and let the reader find in it what they may.
So… you have a chance?
Nah. Like a platter of Niejoahsch’kuake1 in the church basement on Christmas Eve, I will be long gone after the first wave. The writers in this prize are the Iowa Writers’ Workshop types, The Paris Review essayists, the ones who put the “Masters” in MFA.
Yes, and yet if I read my story, I know there is always hope.
1 New Year fritters. Deep-fried, dusted with icing sugar, sinfully good.