Elisabeth Doyle is a writer and attorney living in Washington, D.C. She studied fiction writing at Sarah Lawrence College and the University at Albany, and is completing a Masters of Laws Degree at Georgetown University Law Center. Ms. Doyle’s short fiction was published in the literary journal Nadir and was awarded the University at Albany’s Lovenheim Prize for best short fiction. Her first short film, Hard Hearted One, was admitted into the Philadelphia Festival of World Cinema and the Street Films Film Festival, and was shown on Public Television and Manhattan Cable. War Stories is her first collection of short fiction.
Visit Elisabeth online at http://www.warstoriesshortfiction.com/.
Please tell us about your current release.
War Stories is a lean collection of short fiction – nine stories – many of which are set against the backdrop of contemporary conflicts, including the war in Vietnam and current wars.
Can you tell us about the journey that led you to write your book?
In January 2002, I traveled for the first time to the country of Vietnam. I went there on a bit of a lark – a childhood friend of my mother’s was working there and had extended a kind of “open invitation” to visit. For some reason, I decided to go. Maybe I shouldn’t say “for some reason” – I was born during the war in Vietnam, and the conflict endured throughout my early childhood. I had vague memories of the images of war that flickered on our small television screen each evening. Usually, these images were mere background to our lives – they played out as my mother cooked dinner. No one seemed to pay great attention. I also had vague recollections of the scenery of Vietnam – some mountains and a village. I’m not sure where or when I saw those early childhood images – perhaps on a news program, or in a later documentary.
In any event, I traveled to Vietnam in 2002, and it’s safe to say that the experience changed my life, and opened for me new doors of interest, of passion, and of compassion. I returned with a deep and abiding interest in the war in Vietnam, its history, and its effect on American soldiers and Vietnamese citizens. I read – and continue to read – anything that I can get my hands on regarding the war. I focused primarily on first-hand autobiographical accounts by soldiers.
I had a background in fiction writing, but hadn’t written a short story in years. When I relocated to Washington in late 2006, I resolved to return to writing, mostly at the urging of my mother and grandparents. Away from the distractions of family and familiarity, in a new city, I was able to find the peace in which to write. It should be noted that I did not set out to write a collection of short stories on the topic of war. In fact, I did not set out to write a collection, at all. I just wrote – one story after another. And what I found, as I wrote, was that the theme of war continued to assert itself in each of these stories, in one way or another. After years of reading and learning, war had apparently become the foremost, organizing principle in my mind; the circumstance around which all other things revolved. It emerged as a theme that linked all of the new stories that I wrote, without conscious or deliberate effort or planning on my part.
It should be noted that these are not combat stories, nor do they attempt or purport to be historically accurate or to give voice to the actual experience of those who have fought. Only those who have had to fight, or who have lived in a war zone, can truly understand that experience. These stories are just that – stories – written with the deepest respect and empathy for those who have found themselves in such extreme circumstances, and who have faced the kind of difficult, unforgiving choices that most of us can only imagine.
Sure. Well, suffice it to say that the book cover underwent a lot of changes, much to the annoyance of the cover designer, who (nonetheless) was a wonderfully good sport about it. It was important to me to create a cover that was NOT obviously rooted in or reflective of the topic of war. This was so because, first, the title War Stories is used both literally and figuratively. That is, while the majority of stories in the collection are set against the backdrop of war, other stories are not. These additional tales reflect “war stories” of another kind – the kind that we might all experience. So I wanted the cover to encompass all the themes in the book.
I chose to use a triptych of photos - a series of photos that could each be traced, if a reader so desired, to one or more of the stories in the collection. The characters in the photos are loosely representative of several of the characters in the book.
What approaches have you taken to marketing your book?
The book has been sent out to numerous reviewers and publications, in the hopes of garnering print reviews, and will be presented to bookstores, with stores having the option to carry the book or not. The book also has a website, through which people can purchase the collection, and a face book page. I’ve provided free advance copies to certain friends and colleagues, as well, in the hopes that – if they enjoy the stories – they will post reviews on their face book pages.
What book on the market does yours compare to? How is your book different?
I don’t really think that I can make comparisons – each book, each author, are entirely unique.
What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
I tend to write in a “spare” style, and make a deliberate, conscious effort to avoid sentimentality or over-statement of any kind. That’s just me. I don’t know that I succeed, but I try to convey the characters’ circumstances and states of mind without excess or manipulation of the reader. I also deliberately write without any “message” or agenda in mind. None of these stories, even those that are set against the backdrop of war, are intended to convey any kind of political message, and none of them were written with any kind of agenda or judgment. I wouldn’t even begin to know how to write a story with an agenda or message in mind. In general, I write short stories as a series of vignettes – as moments in time, things that happened - from which the reader can draw his or her own conclusions, messages, etc. I prefer to leave the interpretation of the “meaning” of my stories in the hands of the reader.
Open your book to a random page and tell us what’s happening.
I did as you asked and opened the book to a random page. It happens to be the first page of the story “The Deepest, Darkest Part of the Woods,” on page 53. This happens to be one of my favorite stories, and one of the last in the collection that I completed. It’s one of the stories in the collection that takes the most risks, I think, and revolves around a young veteran who returns to his suburban neighborhood and struggles to re-integrate. This first page is also one of my favorites in the book, as it describes the return of this young man – and others like him – into a familiar setting that is now entirely unfamiliar to him.
Do you plan any subsequent books?
I hope so. I’ve begun a growing list of new short story ideas, and I hope to begin working on them in the very near future. I’m looking forward to that. I also hope to segue back into filmmaking at some point, to work on one or more of the documentary projects that I’d like to explore.
Tell us what you’re reading at the moment and what you think of it.
I’m a bit of a history buff, and (in particular) have a longstanding interest in the Civil War and the civil rights movement. I’m currently (slowly) reading through the Taylor Branch trilogy about the civil rights movement – I’m working on Part 1 of the series, which is called Parting the Waters. I’m so deeply moved by the courage of those individuals – known and unknown – who put their lives and safety on the line for the higher purpose of justice and freedom. I can only hope to develop some small fragment of that kind of courage. I also just purchased several new books – The Fiery Trial – Abraham Lincoln and American Slavery by Eric Foner, and a history of the civil war by Shelby Foote. I think the Civil War and the civil rights movement are pinnacles in the evolution of our nation, and moments in which we can observe what is highest, best, and most divine in humanity.
Publisher: Two Harbors Press
Release: August 7, 2012
Publisher: Two Harbors Press
Release: August 7, 2012
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