Erin McGraw at the podium in Gailor Auditorium. Photo by Robert Mohr (C’21).
By Robert Mohr
Author Erin McGraw recently offered the assembled audience in Gailor Auditorium a peek at her most recent release, Joy And 52 Other Very Short Stories. In her opening monologue, McGraw said: “I wrote this book sort of to spite myself.” After writing three novels, she wanted a change of pace. The collection of 53 stories come from all over her writing career and took varying amounts of time to compose, the longest being three years and the shortest being two days.
She opened her reading with the story “Nutcracker,” which was inspired by a letter to an advice columnist about a 10 year old who threw a tantrum when she was told she was going to see The Nutcracker. The story takes that situation and follows it, from the girl’s perspective, as she runs away from home and is returned by a policeman a short time later.
McGraw then read “Stingers,” a story set in 1964. She credited her historical novel, The Seamstress of Hollywood Boulevard, with introducing her to the pleasures of the genre. “Stingers” introduces the reader to a soon to be married couple, Bob and Connie, as they navigate a cocktail party hosted by their recently divorced friend Lance. McGraw uses the characters and their interactions to, in her words: “explore gender roles.”
Historical accuracy was a major concern for McGraw, who says, of the story: “I probably spent more time researching it, than I did writing it.” McGraw checked everything from the Life magazine cover referenced in the story to the album playing in the background.
The following story, “Cat,” draws from McGraw’s mother, but is set in an Italian plaza where a pawn woman, the narrator’s mother, deals with various customers and their items. Drama ensues when a woman with a large, mischievous cat and a man with a jeweled necklace get into a spat.
Most of the stories included in Joy are stand alone, however a few are in groups and comment on each other. One example is “Bucket,” a two part story. The first part is written from the perspective of an advice column writer who thinks he has received a letter from his wife detailing their failing marriage. The second part is from the perspective of the woman who actually wrote the letter.
The muse for McGraw’s next story, “Rock ‘n’ Roll,” came from a woman at her church who followed once popular English rock band The Moody Blues on tour. The story imagines what life is like for the washed-up classic rock bands who still tour together, and the aging fans that follow them.
Finally, McGraw’s last story, “Prayer,” is written in the form of a prayer. Initially, the prayer sounds like a man questioning God but eventually turns into a recounting of his affair with a married woman who’s husband is paralyzed.
When asked about the reasoning behind the title, Joy, McGraw, laughing, said: “An awful lot of them won’t work as book titles.”