The “Concerning Craft” series introduces Little Patuxent Review contributors, showcases their work and draws back the curtain to reveal a little of what went into producing it.
Please meet Paul Lamb. His stories have appeared in Bartleby Snopes, Danse Macabre, Midwest Literary Magazine, Crossed Genres and Platte Valley Review. “The Respite Room” was published in our Winter 2012 Social Justice issue. (You can read it here by clicking on the link.) Here’s what Paul said led him to the final draft:
I consider it unhealthy to know too much about my creative process. Just as excessive training can take the dog out of a dog, too much understanding of the snarling ferment in my addled brain may over-tame that wooly beast as well. Better, I think, not to know how it happens but merely that it happens. Having said this, I can speak a little about the genesis of my story.
For more than a decade, I volunteered at a respite room much like the one in my story. Through our doors came the full pageant of humanity. Every color and every language. The hale and the hearty. The halt and the lame. The hopeful. The bereft. The generous. The grasping. Yet there was one thing that they all shared: we served them at the worst moments of their lives.
It is thus tempting to think that we are seen at the best moments of our lives, but I don’t think that’s always the case. I cannot divine my fellow volunteers’ motives, but I can observe their actions and comments. These sometimes leave me puzzled.
One woman’s attitude startled me. She saw our guests as greedy, as being wholly and solely responsible for their misfortunes. Her words suggested that they were only interested in what they could plunder from the respite room–what was, in fact, freely offered–and needed to be watched lest they clean us out. Moreover, she seemed motivated to manage their lives, to point out the errors of their ways and expect both humility and gratitude in return. Beneficence with strings attached.
Her sanctimony was not unique. I’ve seen some degree of predatory charity in others, and I suppose I am myself an unwitting perpetrator in small ways. But her words betrayed an intense sentiment that left me puzzled. When I am puzzled by such vagaries, I write about them so that I can understand them.
I had intended the story to be a microcosm of society, with representatives of various cultural roles coming together in a place where a paper cut might be more than a paper cut. But I began it before I had learned of my fellow volunteer’s attitude toward our guests, and my piece was the poorer for it. All I had were vignettes about a day in the life of such a service. There was, in actuality, no story.
Though many observations survived in the final draft, I struggled with it for years. Only after I added an antagonist who crystallized the predatory charity attitude did a workable story emerge. She gave my protagonist something to react to. This caused him to reach the decision in the last line, to which all the preceding words had led.
The previous “Concerning Craft” piece by poet Greg McBride also involves a medical setting, as does another by novelist and short fiction writer Madeleine Mysko. You might also want to take a look at others in the series.