Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: In “Aquí Por Ti,” Claire slowly breaks her codependent relationship with Jon, escaping his lying and emotional manipulation and finally rediscovering her own independence and strength. The ending is particularly powerful as she tosses his catchphrase back at him, no longer needing his supposed support. How did you come to develop Claire’s arc?
Lois Dubois: For me, the arc of a story finds itself in the writing, emerging in the give and take between the writer and the characters. The earlier renditions of this story were in first-person, from Claire’s POV, while she and Jon were living in Portland OR. I even dabbled with telling it first-person from Jon’s POV as an unreliable narrator, which aided me as a writer to better understand his neuroses and rationalizations.
While Claire is quick-witted with a snarky sense of humor, she is also a shy, kind and soft-spoken person who skirts confrontation, especially with those she loves. While an endearing trait, it has kept her stuck in relationships for far too long. Which glides nicely to your next question…
RR: The ring plays an integral role in the story, bringing out Claire’s confidence by speaking to her. When you wrote about the ring, what did you envision for why it talked?
LD: By the nature of who she is and the stage of life she is in at the telling of this tale, Claire is someone who needs someone on the outside to urge her to be decisive, to advocate for her needs, to make a powerful move: in a sense to catapult her out of her softness and passivity when necessary. Left to her own devices, she would have stayed for another year or longer, and suffered, with Jon.
So, how to shake her up? In earlier versions, I had a spunky co-worker in the story. Then dreams from a feisty beloved grandmother, all still within the Portland setting. My sense though was the story felt a tad heavy-handed; it needed lightening somehow, more lift under its wings. So I placed them on a holiday in Spain, a suggestion of Jon’s after his daily visits to pornographic sites were outed and he promised never to visit them again, all of which nicely raised the tension.
RR: Does the setting of the story have any personal or cultural significance to you?
LD: Does this story have any personal or cultural significance, you ask? Only that I’ve traveled to Spain numerous times, adore the culture, the people, the landscape; and secondly, the issue of pornography surfaces in my office frequently. It’s an important relational and cultural issue that is rarely discussed outside of a therapy office; I would like to see more public (or fictional) conversations on how a couple navigates this topic. Once I had placed Jon and Claire in Spain, then the story about the ring rose, but initially as yet another example of Jon’s false generosity, cloaked in charm. Spain is a rich and mystical place for me, so when the ring—made by a woman deep within the Las Alpujarras—began to speak to Claire, in Spanish of course, it made sense to me.
Is it the ring speaking, or is it a stronger sense of Claire speaking to herself through the ring?
Both are possible in my mind.
RR: You mention in your bio that you have a background in psychotherapy. Do you find this experience useful when writing? How does that experience affect this story?
LD: My work as a psychotherapist for over 30 years certainly informs my writing, by giving me hours and hours of experience meandering through people’s hearts and psyches. A specialty of mine is working with couples, and while the details of this story are completely fictional, the dynamic of a witty, intelligent and charming man, who beneath the shining exterior is deeply insecure and so subtly manipulates others through his charm, is a dynamic I’ve witnessed numerous times.
RR: We understand you also write nonfiction, essays, and articles. After having written in all of these genres, as well as fiction, of course, which do you prefer?
LD: In my 20’s, I worked as a writer and assistant editor for an arts publication in Philadelphia. I left that job and attempted to write fiction and to freelance. I failed miserably at both. I then turned my sights towards creating a career in psychotherapy and wrote articles and essays on the side. About ten years ago I embarked on a novel (now finished and in its final edits), and found I love writing fiction. I love the freedom it affords, this story being a great example: I was free to place Claire and Jon anywhere on the planet, saying anything to one another, writing scenes that (hopefully) move the story forward. Writing fiction is an expansive, rigorous experience for me, pushing me to create a compelling narrative, upon a gloriously vast canvas. Essays and articles need a compelling narrative as well, but the scope is more confined, the writing needs to be ‘tidier’. I doubt I’d be able to get an essay published with a talking ring as an onlooking character.
Lois Dubois’s work in Issue 7.1: