n “Fable,” your story in this week’s issue, a man is asked by his therapist to tell the story of his life as a kind of fairy tale. How did that idea come to you? Is it a standard therapeutic technique?

  I don’t know how common it is as a technique, but I believe it is used by at least some therapists. The idea came to me in the car. I was driving to work, dictating into my phone, and the first line of this story just sort of fell out of my head. I ran with it for a while—the momentum of that first paragraph carrying things along. In that initial rush of writing, I didn’t want to stop and think too hard about it. I was afraid to do research (i.e., gentle Googling) and find out something that might give me an excuse to abandon the story. Something like that narrative therapy was a subject of intense debate within the therapeutic community, or had been widely discredited in the nineteen-seventies, etc. Or, even worse, that it didn’t exist at all. At some point, when I had accumulated enough of a narrative that it was starting to feel like a real thing, I figured I’d better take a look and see what was out there in terms of real-world basis for this kind of therapy, lest I find out too late that I was building a whole story that had a fundamental problem. I was relieved to find out that techniques involving storytelling do exist. I can’t speak to any specifics, but I hope in the end it doesn’t matter too much, and that the piece justifies its use of this technique as a vehicle.

  The man tells several versions of his story. Does he get closer to the truth as he goes?

  I think so. He starts out seemingly constrained by genre conventions, boundaries of what his story should or could be—these conventions being a set of tacit assumptions about the world and his place in it. About how life is supposed to go. But this approach fails him. Either he truncates his own story, or he falls out of it, unable to sustain the narrative. The man chooses to tell the story in third person, a choice that builds in some minimum distance between the man, as author or narrator, and the story he’s telling. Which is his own life story. The therapist tries, gently, to lead the man back into the narrative, gradually closing the distance. Because she knows it’s a problem, this distance—the man thinks of it as a kind of perspective, maybe, or irony, but another way of looking at the distance is that it’s a metric of emotional dishonesty. He revises his way to the truth.

  Near the end, the man talks about how his story started off as a fable, in which there was a one-for-one correspondence to real life—in which each fairy-tale element stood for something real—but has now taken on a life of its own. Does that also describe your process as you wrote the story?

  Definitely. This connects to the previous question. At the same time that the man is closing the ironic distance between his narrator and his character, he’s also starting to feel less burdened by the formal rules of his fable. The one-for-one correspondence is helpful as an initial map, but, as long as he sticks to it, it necessarily limits where he can go. Finding a way out of that correspondence gets him into new territory.

  Like the man in the story, you worked as a lawyer for a number of years. Is writing your form of “blacksmithing”?

  Oof. That’s a little close to home! But, yes, I think it is my form of blacksmithing. For a lot of years (and still, to some extent), it felt like a private thing, something that was almost weird to admit to people. That I do this craft thing, a little old-fashioned. I’ve never tried to swing a two-handed broadsword, but it seems difficult. I’d probably chop off my own foot or something.

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  You’ve published two story collections, most recently “Sorry Please Thank You,” in 2012. Do you think that “Fable” is a departure for you, stylistically?

  Yes and no? On the one hand, it’s not a departure, because I think I could probably draw a line from the stories in that collection to this one. Although that’s a dumb thing to say, because I suppose one could draw a line between any two points in the universe. Or maybe not. What am I saying? I don’t know. I’m kind of low-to-the-ground about this—I don’t think I have a very good sense of what I’m doing, or trying to do, until years after it’s done and someone tells me, oh, yeah, don’t you see? All those things you wrote in that five-year period, they were all about your struggle with a day job, or the emotional life of sad zebras, or whatever. Having said all that, I do hope this is a step in a different direction. I’m just not sure which one yet.

  Are you working on another collection now?

  At the moment, I’m working on a novel, although, at any given time, I’ve usually got one or more story ideas in some stage of gestation. And, to carry over from the previous question, I’m hoping that continuing to work on short fiction will shine some light on a path that will help with the novel. A light that leads me on my own trail to a place that I haven’t mapped out yet. Or, more likely, I’ll get lost and wander around in the fictional woods for years until I stumble into something else interesting.

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