Publisher’s Weekly says of the “San Fran-centric stories” in Catherine Brady’s The Mechanics of Falling and Other Stories “her insight into [her character’s] unstable lives will keep readers swaying between a sense of comfort and loss.” Like Brady’s previous books, Curled in the Bed of Love (winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction) and The End of the Class War, this new one is amazing reading. Do enjoy her inspiring post below, then head out to buy a copy of Mechanics, which is just out from the University of Nevada Press. – Meg
About seven years before I published my first book of stories, I made a serious effort to quit writing. I’d been a stay-at-home mom to my two kids, then ages 4 and 6, watching as my friends—lawyers, doctors, therapists—enjoyed the satisfaction of a paycheck as well as recognition for their work. I was tired of feeling like a failure. I even went back to graduate school to become a therapist, figuring that my one translatable skill was my interest in listening to other people. Then I got an idea for a novel and couldn’t keep myself from trying again, though I never published that manuscript.
The day that Margarita Donnelly, an editor at Calyx Books, called to tell me they’d decided to publish my first book, I was available to take her call because I was staying home with a sick kid, my son David, then a middle schooler. When I got off the phone and tried to high-five my son, he wasn’t terribly interested. (My kids have a policy of not encouraging me to pursue what constitutes their only serious competition.) I tried to call my husband at work—he’d high-five me, for sure—but I couldn’t reach him. Then I called my mother. My Irish Catholic immigrant mother, who’d been hoping for years that I would publish a book, but only because it would make me happy. When I told her, she said, “I’ve been praying to St. Jude for you.” St. Jude is the patron saint of lost causes. Thanks, Mom.
So let’s just say that growing up in a big Irish Catholic family (six girls) didn’t outfit me with the kind of ego you need to persist against all odds as a writer. As a kid, I had to hide when I wanted to read, because my parents thought it was unhealthy to hole up with a book so much. For them, the highest pursuit for a woman was to have babies, lots and lots of them, and it might be acceptable to be a schoolteacher or a secretary, if your family really really needed the money. (Tried all three—raising babies and teaching turned out to be not so bad.)
My mom wasn’t the greatest role model for taking the world by storm, either. It was a lot like growing up with Lucille Ball for a mother. She always took the bait in any door-to-door selling scheme, was forever trying out disastrous home-improvement projects. Once she rented a machine to strip wax from the linoleum floor in our kitchen, and when she turned it on, the machine took off with her, yanking her off her feet and thrashing her against the walls and furniture until one of her children stopped laughing long enough to pull the plug. She had bruises all over her body for weeks. Another time, she bought discount laundry detergent from a door-to-door salesman, which she used liberally on the family’s clothes, and then one day while they were at Sunday Mass, my father’s sleeve fell off his shirt and she watched the hem of her dress disintegrate before her eyes. They had to scoot out of church in a big hurry.
And yet I’m sure that I owe it to my mother that I kept writing, even through the rough years. (Alice Munro once said that the first fifteen years were the hardest for a writer, so that helped me hang on too.) If my mother was perplexed by how to balance a checkbook when you didn’t have any money coming in, she was an artist when it came to listening to other people and hearing what they might not be able to put into words. I can’t count how many times I saw her intercede when she witnessed complete strangers being cruel to children, usually by trying to translate for the kids, sure that if their feelings were understood they’d meet with a different reception. And she always understood.
Tolstoy said that art is the means of transferring feeling from one man’s heart to another’s. If you want to be the conduit for this miraculous process, you need to cultivate the kind of receptivity my mother gave to others every day of her life. Imagining is the one human activity in which your heart and mind work to their fullest capacity, and in complete accord. Once you get a taste for it, it’s kind of hard to quit, and you acquire a remarkable talent for denying the realities of the publishing marketplace. This is the only secret to persistence that I’ve ever been able to rely on.
My mother died a year and a half ago, so the Lucille Ball stories won’t embarrass her—and I can express my debt. Thanks, Mom. – Catherine Brady
author photo by Tom McAfee