So you’re doing the whole meta-fiction thing now?
No, just here to talk about my book with my favorite critic.
But you did try meta-fiction, didn’t you?
Yeah, there was a failed story that didn’t make the final cut in which a semi-fictional version of myself confronted all the book’s characters at the Cafe Kopi in Champaign, Illinois.
Jesus, how many versions of you are there?
Better to just move on.
Right. Well, the book is set in your hometown of Tuscola, Illinois. Are there any semi-fictional people running through the pages?
Lowell, the local shrink, is a semi-fictional person. The person Lowell is based on died a few weeks ago of cancer, so I am glad to have a piece of him to carry forward.
Why do you keep returning to the Midwest in your fiction?
Well, the Midwest is my home, and I’m very familiar with it. One day I suggested to a marketing guy at a former job that I was going to name my book Tuscola, and it would sell 3,000 copies. He asked me where is Tuscola, and I said it’s in Central Illinois. He said why don’t you just name the book Central Illinois?
So your book is neither a story collection nor a novel. What’s that about?
I have always wanted to write a novel, and I modeled the structure of this book on Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge, a book I much admire, in fact was obsessed with for a couple of years. Since I am mainly a short story writer, I decided to re-envision the world many of my stories take place in, find the connective tissue, and write new material. And it grew into a novel.
I noticed that the last three stories are a little wilder than the early ones.
I wrote those three stories in the summer of 2015. I use a journaling tool called 750words.com and it really set me free to take these characters to places they might not have gone otherwise. It was a trip. For me and them.
Most of those characters aren’t all that religious––at least not regular churchgoers. So where did the title come from?
My hometown Catholic parish church was Forty Martyrs. I know, for a lot of bigger towns, one martyr would be enough.
PHILIP F. DEAVER was born in Chicago, IL, and grew up in the Midwest. He is the author of the Flannery O’Connor Award-winning story collection Silent Retreats, and the poetry collection How Men Pray. His poems have been featured several times on The Writer’s Almanac with Garrison Keillor. His stories have appeared in The Missouri Review, The Kenyon Review, The New England Review, and elsewhere; and have been anthologized in O. Henry Prize Stories, Best American Catholic Short Stories, and the baseball anthologies Anatomy of Baseball and Bottom of the Ninth. He is a Professor of English at Rollins College in Winter Park, FL.