INTERVIEW WITH JEFFREY DEVRIES
Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: We love the upbeat feel to “The Only Reason To Kill” despite its discussion of death. What inspired you to write something with this tone?
JD: Life is beautiful. Life is a miracle. Life is a gift. Without a doubt, no one escapes struggles and difficulties, and I know that others have problems far bigger than mine, but at the end of the day, I feel a lot like Paul does in the story. Even as he plummets toward a possible death (and aren’t we all falling there, at one speed or another), I am so grateful for the miracle of life, grateful for the people I love and who love me, grateful for experiencing God’s goodness in grace after grace after grace. I know we live in a pessimistic age, but I’ll have none of it. Life is a gift that’s too precious, too magnificent, to waste time in cynicism or malice or ennui.
RR: We really enjoyed the relationship between Ben and Paul, a young hot shot and an older, wise man. How do you go about creating character relationships?
JD: Thank you for the kind comments on the story. I have to admit that I had a bit of fun discovering the relationship between these two characters too. For me, developing relationships in stories is really about developing characters. Paul’s character was where this story started. I envisioned this older man who might seem a curmudgeon at first because he is old enough to be jealous of his remaining time and wise enough not to suffer fools. But behind the gruff exterior, Paul actually has a generosity of spirit and a love of life that will always prevail. And he has a story to tell, but he needs the right audience to hear it. So really the character of Ben is the one that changed shape the most through the process. If Ben had not been persistent enough to keep pestering or open and humble enough to listen, the story could never unfold the way it does.
RR: A lot of this story is told through Ben and Paul’s conversation. Can you walk us through your method for writing dialogue?
JD: I think it begins, again, with character development. When I feel like I’ve really discovered who a character is, then how they speak, their cadences and diction, starts to come naturally. But I have to discover the character first.
And I’ll add this: this story—from its first inception—was a framed story. I have always loved framed stories—The Canterbury Tales, Rime of the Ancient Mariner, The Princess Bride. You get two stories for the price of one, and the frame story enriches the inner story. So I hope is the case with this story. The main story may be Paul’s story about the man he killed, but the frame, I hope, makes that story so much more interesting. The frame shows us the storytelling as an act of love, both for those who are gone and for those with whom we still live.
RR: Where did the idea for this piece come from? Did it have any real-life inspirations?
JD: Not directly, no. But when I was a young man, I did travel the rail route of the story during the same time of year, so the story’s setting was inspired by my own life experience. I loved traveling in Europe by rail for the reason that emerges in the story—it is a great place to engage strangers in conversation.
RR: Life advice is a big part of this piece. Is there any life advice you would offer to fellow writers out there?
JD: Tell the stories you want to tell, not the ones you think others want to hear. As a young writer, I spent too much time and energy imitating other writers’ approaches. It seems like so many of the short stories being published when I was younger featured world-weary narrators and focused on mundane aspects of life. Raymond Carver, who I think was a tremendously talented writer, had cast a long shadow, and I spent way too much time trying to write and sound like him. Problem is, Raymond Carver and I don’t see life much the same way at all, and I wasted years writing stories that no one particularly wanted to read, including me. My writing got so much better once I started writing the stories I wanted to tell in the language and style I enjoyed. If those stories reach no audience, that still bothers me (no writers want their work to go unread), but if I write what I like, at least I will be pleased with the story.
Read “The Only Reason To Kill” by Jeffrey DeVries.