Susan Tepper: John, your intriguing story “Along Came Doreen starts this way like a poem or song lyrics:

“Twenty two, reading Camus, feeling blue, life is absurd. Why even try? Live for today, stay blown away. Inherent meaning does not exist in this universe.”

Immediately I was pulled in by the funky voice of your narrator.  It’s fun!  I needed to find out what would happen.  Did you know Doreen would be part of this story, or did you discover her somewhere down the line of writing it?

J. Mykell Collinz: Doreen is the story’s central character. That started with Drug War Snitch, which takes place about ten years later. After the fourth episode of that story, I felt a need to go back to the very beginning of our relationship and start writing it over again with more of an emphasis on Doreen. The first paragraph describes my mental condition as I grabbed my guitar, jumped in my car, and headed for the bar, one pivotal evening early in our relationship. The rest, about practicing the guitar, singing in my basement, imagining myself performing in front of Doreen and her adoring friends at the bar, and then actually doing it, is a compressed version of the evening where we became more seriously involved at a gathering in someone’s house after the bar. Doreen is my central character in several other stories, also.

ST: You say “our” rather than “their” relationship, which forms my next question:  How much real truth is here in this story?  You can fudge this answer for the sake of your privacy, but you can also tell as much as you wish.

JMC: Doreen and I were eventually married in June of 1965 and we’ve been married ever since. She died at home of cancer last May. This is part of a series of stories based on the facts of our life together which are still in progress. Many details are compressed or simplified in this story to characterize a number of different experiences.

ST:  Oh, my.  That’s very sad news.  John, I’ve always found you to be a writer with a deep heart.  That you’ve chosen to share this personal information here, well, I’m speechless.  And honored that you feel this is a safe space in which to do so.  Thank you.

One of the many things I loved about this story was the narrator saying:  “I needed a miracle.”

There is purity to that line.  It doesn’t get any truer than that.  Who hasn’t been there?  Who hasn’t needed a miracle?  It helps us relate to him.  And, to my mind that is the single strongest element in story-telling.  Can we relate to the character(s).  And I don’t mean we need to “like” the characters.  Though I happen to like your guy.  And that night he got his miracle, right?

JMC: Maybe I shouldn’t have mentioned her death at this time but it’s now a part of the story. Yes, he received his miracle, in the form of love, infusing his universe with meaning. And, yes, the need for a miracle to get him out of his mental and spiritual funk does help the reader relate to the character, which is the single strongest element in story telling, I agree.

ST:  I don’t think there is a right or wrong time to reveal things.  I think we do it according to our own timetable, and as you say: it’s now part of the story.  And stories are what these chats are all about.

I’ll reveal something.  I was a “girl singer” and can so relate to much of this story, the atmosphere you’ve created, the nerves that go along with certain gigs.  You write:

“While practicing at home, I would visualize myself standing on stage in the large, square, dimly lit barroom filled to capacity for open mic night. With ceiling fans circulating smoke filled air, the atmosphere would be torrid.”

Torrid.  Perfect word for the atmosphere of the bars back then.  Your male character lets us in on his vulnerability.  That’s very nice in a story.  A lot of male writers will not allow that to happen.  Does it come easily for you to write a vulnerable male character?

JMC:  I’m not sure if I can say it comes easily to write a vulnerable male character yet it does apply to many of my characters, particularly the characters based upon my own direct experiences because that’s what I’m usually trying to convey, to give insight to the character’s basic fears, desires, and motivations.

ST:  I applaud you for that!  Go for truth, I always say (especially to myself).  By the way, John, speaking of truth, your character talks about strapping on his Martin acoustical six-string guitar.  There’s more truth.  The fake musicians often call it an acoustic guitar.  Ha ha!  Do you still play, and if so, what do you like?

JMC:  That’s very insightful of you to catch that. Yes, I still play every chance I get, usually when I’m alone. I don’t play songs, I explore musical patterns, it’s a mystical experience. I listen to all forms of music. I love music.

Read  Along Came Doreen by  J. Mykell Collinz

Monday Chat is a bi-weekly series in which Susan Tepper has a conversation with a Fictionaut writer about one of his or her stories. Susan’s new book From the Umberplatzen is a collection of linked-flash published by Wilderness House Press.

  1. J. Mykell Collinz

    My thanks to Ramon Collins for his help with the story, including the title, Along Came Doreen, as indicated in the comment section with the story.

  2. J. Mykell Collinz

    I would also like to thank everyone else for their many helpful comments.

  3. Matt Dennison

    I remember that story, J!

    Thanks for the flashback!

  4. James Lloyd Davis

    J. It’s good that you go on like this. Keep writing. It’s no waste of your time as evidenced by your work.

  5. susan tepper

    I love this story so much! It has great spirit! I’m so glad John chatted about it here and shared some of his life with us. We are all about “stories.” Fictionaut is a wonderful place to tell them.

  6. david Ackley

    So much richness of heart in the story, in this story of the story. Thanks, J. for what you said here and Susan for asking.

  7. Meg Tuite

    WOW!! Thank you so much for an incredible story and a sublime interview, John and Susan! Another exceptional innner experience uncovering the core of the story. I am so sorry for your loss, John!!!
    So thankful that you are writing and with such depth of feeling!
    Blown away!!

  8. Darryl Price

    “John, I’ve always found you to be a writer with a deep heart. ” Add me,Susan, to this fine line of yours of admiration, respect and celebration for a fine writer in our friend, John! Great questions and answers.

  9. Sam Rasnake

    Enjoyed the insight here, J Mykell. Thanks for this entry in the series, Susan.

  10. Meg Pokrass

    nice John so good, great questions and answers!

  11. MaryAnne Kolton

    I am so sorry for your loss. Can you feel my arms wrapped around you in a huge supportive hug? Your writing has always felt so grounded and intimate to me . . .important.

  12. Robert Vaughan

    John, this is a true testament of your strength of spirit, your openness with Susan and willingness to craft your lovely words into your amazing, inspiring work. Thanks for sharing your life, and process here. So sorry for your loss.

  13. estelle bruno

    loved every line of this Chat. So honest and sincere, and so sad for your loss J.

  14. Jane Hammons

    Great story. I’m glad to discover it (as I discover many great things I’ve missed) by way of your wonderful interview.

  15. J. Mykell Collinz

    When Susan suggested this chat about a story involving Doreen, I wasn’t sure how to approach it, thinking a story about her should stand alone on its own merits and not be influenced by news of her death. Yet it does further the story and I had to do it.

    I appreciate all the comments, empathy, and sympathy. This is a great community.

  16. susan tepper

    John, the story does stand alone. And it stands with her. And with you. I can’t wait to read more of this series you are working on!

  17. J. Mykell Collinz

    Matt’s back! more of his exceptional writing! Yes! Now we need Jack to come back. And James, thanks for the encouragement. I’m learning from some great writers here: I read everything you write, hoping it rubs off. Susan Tepper, I love your insightful analysis, almost as much as your writing. David, another great analyist whose stories and comments I love to read where ever I find them. Meg Tuite, wow, thanks, I’m blown away by your work and I love your comment. Darryl, a writer with a deep heart, yourself, and a gift for its poetic expression. Sam, artistic language and form, layered with multimedia referrences and implications, along with the heart and poetic expression. Meg Pokrass, the funniest serious writer of which I know. She gave me my first comment on my first story here. Unsure of my writing, I had deleted it before I noticed her comment. MarryAnne, yes, I feel your arms wrapped around me in a huge supportive hug, and I thank you for it, along with your wonderful comment. Robert, thanks, I appreciate your words and your meaning. I always enjoy your writing and comments on other’s writing. Estelle, thanks for your loving, every line. Jane, I’m glad you discovered it, too. And I’m glad I discovered you. I read everything you post here. Hard hitting, edgy, creative non-fiction, that’s what I’m shooting for.

  18. Joani Reese

    John and Susan:

    Enjoyed reading this. A piece is always better when we write it based on our own experience, just slant.

  19. J. Mykell Collinz

    Hi, Joani. I’m glad you enjoyed it. My initial motivation was to write based on experience and that’s what I’m still trying to accomplish but experience is only one of the many ingredients necessary to write interestingly, I’m learning. Thanks for reading it and commenting.

  20. Bill yarrow

    Condolences on your loss, John. Excellent, enlightening interview.

  21. J. Mykell Collinz

    Hi, Bill. I appreciate your comment and sentiment, thanks.

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