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Friday, June 21, 2024
The Observer

Married authors discuss work, inspirations

Married authors and Florida State University professors Elizabeth and Ned Stuckey-French visited Saint Mary’s on Thursday as part of the English department’s Visiting Writers series.

Mrs. Stuckey-French has written several novels and short story collections, including her recent book “The Revenge of Radioactive Lady,” which received critical acclaim from The New Yorker and The New York Times.

Mr. Stuckey-French is an essayist who has contributed to many books on writing, as well as creative nonfiction pieces.

“Everybody believes the nonfiction essay is dying, but I think a new essay is being born to replace it,” Mr. Stuckey-French said. “Op-eds and editorial columns are all essays, and the writing program is starting to take these writings seriously.”

The essay Mr. Stuckey-French read at the event, “Backyards,” describes his first time discovering social classes.

“I’ve written some personal essays about moments in my childhood where I first realized things that had to do with social justice,” he said.

Mr. Stuckey-French said he realized his father felt embarrassed to have been caught working on a tree house when he heard his father swear for the first time.

“I wrote an essay about the swearing for the ACT to use, and how that moment was an entry into adulthood,” he said. “Later in my life, I came back to that essay and started thinking about how I felt about the backyards mentioned in it. This was a class difference within the middle class.”

Mrs. Stuckey-French read her short story titled “Interview With a Moron,” which was originally part of a novel set in 1920. Mrs. Stuckey-French said the piece had several inspirations, including an article she read in the Indiana Historical Society Magazine, her early career as a social worker and Stuckey-French’s daughters, the older of whom has autism.

“I witnessed the conflict between the two of them, and how the younger envies the older for the attention she got for this disorder,” she said.

In “Interview With a Moron,” the interviewer is actually the subject’s older brother, and harbors a grudge about the extra attention his brother receives. At first, the story is told in third person point-of-view, but then switches to first person.

“The interviewer gets more and more personal. He begins to reveal his true feelings about his brother as he goes along, and I switch to first person to emphasize that,” Mrs. Stuckey-French said.

Mrs. Stuckey-French also discussed her novel, “Revenge of the Radioactive Lady,” inspired by experiments done involving giving Americans radioactive iron to study its effects.

“My agent said the character was too mean,” she said. “I thought, no, I can see someone being this angry after this was done to her. There’s an expectation that female characters won’t be mean or villainous, but I like complex characters.”

According to Mrs. Stuckey-French, an emotional connection with the character can make or break the story.

“The more a character is unlike you, the harder it is to figure them out,” she said. “But once you find that connection, they spring to life.”