In the late Nineties my writing students, not content that I had written and published The Wounded and other stories about sons and fathers, in part at least, to demonstrate a wide range of “point of view” for them, insisted that I write a novel. The trouble was I had little kids and had always suffered a debilitating fear of destitution–the result of a wobbly upbring (another story)–and I struggled to justify applying the necessary time.
I worked long hours teaching writing classes and coaching one-on-one to make sure my kids wouldn’t suffer the same fate I had. I grew used to the role of teaching artist rather than that of a full-time writer. After I managed to create some semblance of economic security I turned my attention to an idea that had been hovering in my consciousness for a long time. This would become House of Large Sizes.
The Wounded drew largely from my own life and the lives of those close to me. It was inspired by Joyce’s Dubliners and Hemingway’s In Our Time and the connected modernist stories could collectively be categorized as a fragmented roman a clef. Despite the pleasure that book gave me to write, I didn’t want to repeat the technique. I wanted to write a novel that was completely drawn from my imagination, and my training in archetypal structures, which has fascinated me since being introduced in college to that seminal structuralist work by Northrup Frye, An Anatomy of Criticism. Hence, my book would somehow echo the first extant Occidental story: ‘Gilgamesh’.
I visited New Orleans, which has always seemed to me like a good analogy for the underworld, and began looking for elements to support the story of a younger brother who follows his older brother to Hades to stop him undergoing unsanctioned gender reassignment. I had no idea what I was in for! After barely sleeping for a week, and having extraordinary dreams, I got myself back to Minneapolis, and, during an intense period of marital upheaval, marathon running and teaching, I banged out a draft. It was always titled House of Large Sizes.
I wasn’t particularly pleased with the draft so set it aside to cool off. Then Hurricane Katrina devastated the town I had grown to love, and either killed or dispersed most of my Voodoo sources. Not wanting to exploit that disaster I set the book aside and then fretted about it for a decade. Then, in 2014, after starting Calumet Editions–a very new kind of publishing house–my wise partner Gary Lindberg asked me how long I thought it was since Katrina, and I realized that time enough had passed and that I felt comfortable working on the book again.
Luckily House of Large Sizes was in pretty good shape, but the work to bring it up to the highest editorial standard was intense. I’m pleased with the result and feel like an anvil has been lifted from my shoulders, allowing new work to start roaring out of me. Writing makes me happy; I’m happy again, and I hope you enjoy reading House of Large Sizes.