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"The No-Tell Hotel"
Winner of the Goldenberg Prize for Fiction, 2013
Selected by Jane Smiley
What inspired you to write "The No-Tell Hotel"?
A friend’s death compelled me to write this story as did my own fear of illness. My relationship with my own children has caused me to reflect on the large number of children and teenagers out there who live with ill parents and have little to no support. I have Crohn’s Disease, so this is something I think about.
One of the most striking things about "The No-Tell Hotel" is the voice—realistic, hopeful, intelligent, compassionate, and completely unique. Can you tell us a little bit about the development of the voice? Did the character, voice, and plot develop together, or was one realized first?
The voice of the mother definitely came first. Once I hear a character, I work on a story until I have the whole of it. Much earlier in my career, I read Jane Smiley’s essay “Can Mothers Think?” It was 1993, and my son was two years old. There wasn’t much discussion of motherhood and writing back then. The essay gave me great comfort, as did the fact that Smiley dedicated Ordinary Love and Good Will to her childcare providers. Mothers have for so long been idealized or villainized—we are recovering from years of Freudian influence in that regard— so it is important that we hear genuine voices.
In this short story, we're introduced to a resourceful yet flawed protagonist and a whole slew of supporting characters. Is there any chance that this is—dare we ask—the first chapter of a novel? After all, not all of the conflicts (such as the narrator's father's dementia) are resolved by the end of the story.
You’re right. “The No-Tell Hotel” belongs to a collection I am finishing entitled The Medicated Marriage, and the stories do link. There are stories later about the narrator’s father as well as her son and daughter. All the stories are about children and parents finding love in the imperfect. There’s very little in our society that recognizes living well with pain or illness, and I feel enormously grateful to the Bellevue Literary Review for the work you publish.
What is your biggest challenge as a writer?
I research too much. I can’t afford that. I have to write hard and fast on my breaks from teaching. My challenge is to trust myself, to believe I already contain what I need. I can fact check later.
Which writers have influenced you? What are you currently reading?
Grace Paley and Marguerite Duras were big in my development; their narrators are unapologetic about their feelings. Right now, I am reading American Masculine by Shann Ray, a gorgeous story collection set in the West. Also a memoir, The Memory Castle by Mira Bartok, which manages to examine mental illness, traumatic brain injury, and homelessness in one book.