“Our Lady of the Freeway”: The Story Behind the Story

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You can purchase a copy of Headland Journal No. 6 here to read “Our Lady of the Freeway.”

This is a story I’ve been trying to write for almost thirty years. Preparing to write this post, I spent a bunch of time digging through my notebook covering 1988–1991 but didn’t find any trace of this, although I can remember working on an early version of the story set in Germany with a lot of details copped from the Hotel Grillparzer sections of The World According to Garp. I’m sure if I dug through my notebooks and scraps of hard drive from days gone by, I might turn up some of those early attempts. Later, I read John Biguenet’s “The Vile Soul” in Granta and found myself despairing because Biguenet succeeded in doing what I wanted to do with my story and much better than I was capable of doing that.

During my MFA, I needed to generate some new material for workshop during my second residency and I decided to resurrect this idea and see where it led me. I chose to re-set the story in Los Angeles as it’s a city that I know well (all the locations in the story are real). I had a rough idea of the story having attempted to write it before, but this time, I had a second character appear besides the narrator and with his appearance, the story developed new life beyond the question of the apparitions at the center of the story.

I tend to choose character names with some indirect significance if only to help me keep them straight in my mind In this instance, the two main characters, Henry and Arthur derive their names from the unused first names of the English Catholic novelists Graham Greene and Evelyn Waugh, respectively, The characters take their attitude toward Catholicism loosely on the personalities of those two writers as well.

Before its eventual acceptance, this story received 26 rejections including nine “encouraging” rejections. On the final round of submissions, one journal accepted it on the day it was sent. I’m not sure how they ended up in my submission list, but I think it was a case of the journal doing a follow-unfollow on Twitter in hopes of dredging up followers. I decided to decline the acceptance, figuring that I’d rather have it go some place with high enough standards to spend more than a day to accept a piece and that if the story was so good that it’d merit a one-day acceptance, it would be accepted elsewhere as well. It was.

The workshop group who gave me input on the earlier draft of this story was composed of Tibor Fischer, Kat Grilli, Steven Paul Lanski, Kossiwa Logan and Ryan McConkey,

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