“Saint Jude’s Medallion”: The Story Behind the Story

The earliest version of “Saint Jude’s Medallion” came from an assignment for a class I took as an undergrad,Image of Saint Jude Medallion Latinos and the Politics of Religion. We were supposed to interview an older Latino/a (the term Latinx had not yet been invented or at least had not achieved currency in the Pomona Valley of the late 80s) about some aspect of folk theology. The rest of the class were Latinx themselves and had only to call up abuelita and record a conversation with her to complete the assignment. I should have made arrangements to find someone to speak with, but I procrastinated and had to come up with something quick with no resources. So I created a work of fiction purporting to be truth (a friend majoring in political science told me later that what I considered to be a relatively venal sin was, in fact, a grave ethical violation. These sorts of issues were not usually matters of concern in the English department).

The original version of the story ended with the conversion of the narrator’s boyfriend, but when I revisited this story on my return to writing, I found that conclusion to be saccharine and unsatisfying. I came up with the conclusion that I did when in the course of researching contemporaneous terminology for the rail line that the narrator used to travel to the South Side neighborhood of Chicago I read about the train crash that takes place near the end of the story which seemed purpose-made for my needs.

An early version of this story was workshopped in the writing group I was in with Georgene Smith Goodin, and was rejected many many times before I brought into a writing class I took with Lee Strickland at StoryStudio Chicago where it was met with violent disapprobation by my classmates. I took Lee’s comment about the narrator’s English being too good to heart and I rewrote all of her dialogue in Spanish, did a literal translation of the Spanish into English and then cleaned up the resulting broken English to make it read better. I put it back into submissions and got still more rejections, all of them form rejections. My first hint that it wasn’t something I should trunk was a personalized rejection from Barcelona Review praising the writing. A couple weeks later, Switchback responded offering publication.





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