D. A. Blankinship

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Woodcliff Anthology Interview

woodcliff anthologyThe Woodcliff Anthology is a collection of eight metaphysical tales. The one thing common to the eight stories is that the characters are about to experience a life changing event.

Why did you write these short stories?

I was not intending to write a collection of short stories. The anthology began with "Jewel's Unexpected Friends." That was the first one.

I was standing in my backyard on a Sunday afternoon gazing into the trees and for a moment I wondered what life would be like to have lived on the frontier when wildness was common and civilization was rare. I wondered about the children then, the kids who grew up in the woods and approached nature with the naivety of utter innocence. Almost immediately, this first short-story cascaded into my mind, fully developed. I jotted down a few notes and wrote it up that afternoon.

It was my first experience writing a short-story and I really enjoyed it. I wrote the other seven stories over the course of two years. Two stores ("Jewel's Unexpected Friends" and "Wishing for Secrets") are part of the Shameless Shorts Anthology, which rose to reside in Amazon's top-ten anthology group in Kindle for more than a year and continues to do well, today. (Proceeds from that Anthology benefit the work of The Praxis Ethiopia Foundation and I remain indebted to the other authors for their generosity in supporting development work in Ethiopia and sub-Sahara Africa.)

Did you write this collection for a particular audience?

No. I write for people, everyone who can read and understand. These tales will appeal to people who enjoy seeing reality as just a part of what is real. Anyone who ponders the possibilities of life and enjoys stories that do not take the path most traveled will slip into these tales and feel at home. I write stories that can be read and enjoyed by anyone at any age level. These stories could be read aloud in Sunday School or savored late at night before falling asleep.

The stories have moral and religious themes; is this a religious book?

No, the stories in the anthology pose questions about courage, forgiveness, perfection, and enlightenment. These are some of life's "big questions," and we associate them with religion; however, the stories do not reflect a particular point of view.

Spoiler Alert

The first story is a composite of one of life's most pressing questions, "Who am I?" Most of us know that we exist, right now. That's a self-evident truth and it is seldom challenged by any of our experiences. Most of the world's religions believe humans have souls and that's the beginning of all kinds of confusion. We speak as if a soul is a package of some kind tucked inside us somewhere, coming into existent when we are born and rocketing off into eternity when the body--that means me--dies.

The three men on the bench are somewhat rabbinical (anyone who knows a rabbi does not need to be told that, right?). The entire conversation reflects some of the most profound truths in Cabala (not to be confused with Cabelas' Sporting Goods). I get excited about eternity and infinity and the fact that we are as ancient as all that exists (if you have evidence that you are temporary, drop me a line; it will set science and physics back a few hundred years, but that's their problem, right?).

These stories are unusual--how are your readers reacting?

"Unusual" is an apt description. I had several of the stories available as samplers on the website for about a year before Barred Owl published the anthology.

I promoted the stories on facebook, Amazon, and Author's Den. I do not know how many people read the stories (web traffic was more than a 1,000 views per month); I do know that high school and college teachers asked to use the stories in their classrooms. A college lit teacher in Connecticut used "The Last Bet," as an example of how to write short stories.

Read reviews

The stories are really mirrors we look into to see ourselves, or perhaps, not see ourselves. In the psychology business--particularly in counseling and psychotherapy (my area of training)--we have a saying that people seek out experiences to confirm their world view (i.e., angry people seek out violence, sad people seek discouragement, people in love see cupids everywhere). When these stories resonate for a reader, he or she is ready to see something new and to consider a metaphysical perspective about the events in our lives.

I dedicated the book to those hapless deep thinkers who are convinced life is a random biochemical accident and we exist in an indifferent cosmos, spinning dizzily toward extinction. That dedication sets the feeling tone for the stories in the book. Anyone reading that dedication and connecting with the deeper meaning it conveys will delight in this book; all those 5-star reviews are coming from people who understand--you can see that's true in their comments.

...all those 5-star reviews are coming from people who understand

 Anyone who is irritated by the dedication should not read the book; it will not touch them, it will not be special for them at all. That's why I put that dedication on the second page; people who understand that dedication will know right away that they picked up the right book and people who are not ready will not waste their time.

What is the "message" of this collection? Are you teaching something?

Every story teaches--that is the power of a story and it is a particular power of fiction.

Anyone who has watched "Supernatural" knows that salt keeps demons at bay and witches use hex bags to strengthen their spells; yet, when do you plan to use that knowledge?

When we read about people who have problems we expect them to find solutions and then live happily ever after (or at least until tax season). In the anthology, people discover that sometimes we need to view the events in our lives from a higher plain: perhaps we are quite amazing.

Do you have a favorite story in the collection?

That's an interesting question. As I completed each story, it became my favorite. As I re-read, then proofed the final galley print, each story re-invoked my first feelings of affection.

The boy in "Wishing for Secrets" and the girl in "Jewel's Unexpected Friends" reside deep in my psyche; they are such good examples of everyone searching for the truths and the stunning power of caring for another. I believe innocence is the most powerful thing in the universe--we all know that in the deepest reaches of who we are.

"Miss Elaine's Rescue" was a challenge to write. I re-wrote the final two paragraphs three times. Each re-write was increasingly less subtle. This is a great story about the joys and fears of parenting and the pitfalls of seeking magical explanations for a parent's love of his or her infant.

"Justice for Patricia" and "The Final Defense" have strong social justice themes and in many ways, that is also true of "The Mystic's Help."

"The Last Bet" is a fun read for anyone who enjoys golf; though you do not need to know anything about golf to enjoy the story.

If I was stranded on the proverbial deserted island with only one story to read, it would be "The Arrangements." Though I make that choice for the descriptions of food and drink, which I would read over and over on that deserted island and, yes, the menu reflects my favorites.