Read Some of Tim's Stories Online

Authors: S. E. Hinton

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Some of Tim's Stories (10 page)

BOOK: Some of Tim's Stories
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And as if that weren't enough, he meets a vampire

The vampire, Grenville, was interesting, because I portrayed him as a man who really valued his self-control. For him, being a vampire was like being a drug addict. He couldn't break himself; he wasn't proud of it. But he relished the power that being a vampire gave him.

Did you have any other vampire characters in mind as you wrote the book

When Grenville and Jamie got together, I was also thinking about the original Dracula and Renfield, the cowering little servant. That whole relationship fascinated me.

Publishers Weekly
described the book as “swashbuckling,” not exactly what you'd expect for a horror novel

I felt trapped writing teenage books with drama and meaning—or no meaning—and I wanted to go back to when writing was really fun. I'd just re-read
Treasure Island
, and I had a great time making up Jamie's adventures. After Jamie told his psychiatrist about being in Burma, I went to the globe and saw the Andaman Islands. I looked them up in the dictionary and found out they are beautiful, pristine, but also hangouts for really bad people, so I had Jamie's boat break down near the islands. Then the next issue of
National Geographic
had an article on Burma in the 1960s. The socialist government was collapsing, and two-thirds of the net national income was from smuggling. So many synchronicities kept happening to me while I was writing the book.

Kellen Quinn, Jamie's best friend, is a great character, an Irish con man

I loved writing his dialogue with Jamie. He had quite a vocabulary, and Jamie was not particularly verbal, but he liked to listen to Kell's stories.

As you just mentioned, much of the book takes place in the 1960s, specifically 1967, the same year
The Outsiders
was published. Is that just a coincidence, or was your subconscious at work again

My subconscious was at work again, because I realized after I'd written the book that I was using the vampire as a metaphor for the Vietnam draft. People forget how it was. The draft could yank you out of your life, subject you to horrors, then send you back to a country that despised you. Jamie is ripped out of his life by the vampire, subjected to horrors, and driven crazy. The vampire holds him in contempt, but at the end, he and Jamie have gradually learned to respect each other. I actually even mention the Vietnam situation. When Jamie's first sent to the state mental hospital, a lot of Vietnam vets are patients.

The book operates in several different time frames. We've talked about the '60s, but there's an opening prologue dated 1950. Why did you choose the nonlinear structure

Jamie was a tactile learner. He wasn't a reader, but he liked to work jigsaw puzzles. I realized after I did the book that I was working a jigsaw puzzle. Something will be mentioned in one chapter that will only make sense several chapters later. I think that gives the reader a feeling at the end of having lived a lifetime with somebody.

You've used the name Jamie before with your female character in
Is there any connection

No. I tried to come up with a lot of different names for the character. Jamie just seemed to be the one that suited him.

Horror guru R. L. Stine wrote that he wanted to echo Jamie's plea, “Don't let it be dark.” How did that plea originate within you

I'm not sure. I'm not scared of the dark. I like swimming out in the pool at night by myself. On the surface, Jamie connects the dark with the time the vampire first gets him and torments him. But also Jamie, who was pretty fearless, was in the dark about life. Like when he was running guns with Kell. He was doing a job, getting paid well. It was a little dangerous, but he was totally in the dark about the principle until he realized these guns were going to be used to murder men, women, and children. He's enlightened by the end of the book.

Taming the Star Runner, Hawkes Harbor
is written in third person. Was that a calculated decision on your part, or was that just how the story came to you

It was calculated. I wanted the freedom in
Hawkes Harbor
to be all over the map, and not just geographically. I was in Burma, I was in Bangkok, I was in the Riviera. Some paragraphs come from the mind of Kell. A few paragraphs come from the mind of the vampire, and from some other characters, too.

You mentioned that this book takes place all over the world, not in Oklahoma like your other books. Why did you decide to shift locales

Well, I've done Oklahoma to death. I realized later that Jamie and Kell met in Hawaii and kept going farther and farther west. Their first stop was in the Philippines, and then they were in Burma, the French Riviera, Liverpool. It's hot in Burma, but by the end of the book, in Washington, D. C., it's snowing. It's gotten colder and colder and colder. That was an interesting motif.

Hawkes Harbor
you were writing to an adult audience for the first time in your career. How did that feel

I've always wanted to know if I could do sex scenes, and so there are about three in the book. They're not gratuitous; they're illustrating Jamie's sex education. Kell gets mad at Jamie for buying hookers, because he doesn't need to—he's young; he's good-looking. When he does finally fall in love with a girl, he realizes affection might be the next step.

Many of your fans loved
Hawkes Harbor,
but some were uncomfortable with the book. Did that surprise you at all

I knew a lot of people would think it was strange. It's funny to me because a lot of people were shocked that there was a vampire in it. I gave plenty of clues, so I didn't think it was going to be any huge surprise when it turned out Mr. Hawkes was not exactly what people thought he was. People seem to have so many ideas about what I'm supposed to be writing, but I've never let anybody dictate what I write. On the other hand, I do get fan mail from people who just loved
Hawkes Harbor
. One woman wrote and said she was in love with Jamie after the first chapter. That was nice. And I think the characters are some of the best I've ever done.

Do you plan on more horror novels, or was
Hawkes Harbor
a literary diversion

The book I'm working on now is a paranormal suspense comedy—set in Oklahoma.

Do all of your books, as diverse as they are, relate to extended family

Absolutely. Like the puppy becoming a member of the family, even though she and Nick actually didn't have a whole lot in common. In
The Outsiders
, Ponyboy did not like Dallas in the beginning, but he did admire him by the end of the book. And Grenville and Jamie end up being family members. Jamie had been searching for a father figure all his life, and he went through several of them—the priest, Kell, Grenville. All my books are about relationships.

Look at this gorgeous superstar—and Matt's not bad either

The dishwasher is humming in the kitchen as Susie and I admire the framed photo of Matt Dillon riding her horse Toyota. The picture, she tells me, was taken during the filming of
and she's left it on the den coffee table so we can consider it for the book. Matt and Toyota leave little to the imagination. They're not posing. They're naturally young and bold, reined in by the camera, but ready to bolt to a different realm. Susie's also preoccupied with two black-and-white illustrations for Tim's stories, one a work in progress. “This needs to be a little rougher,” she says, calling my attention to the image of a worn chair, draped with a banner that reads, “Welcome Home Terry.” She goes on to explain that she means rougher
like Tim himself, though he's not depicted in the drawings or the stories. The other sketch, featuring a smoldering cigarette, suggests that Tim has just stepped away from the scene for a minute, but, like us, can still hear the dishwasher and see Matt in the distance

The stories in your collection
, Some of Tim's Stories,
focus on Mike and Terry. Who exactly is Tim

Tim is the author of the stories. I took a roundabout way of writing in first person, using a narrator who writes his stories in third person. That sounds confusing, but I pictured Tim as a bartender in his late twenties, working in some small northern Oklahoma town. He went to a community college to take computer courses for his job, enrolled in some other courses, got interested in short stories, and decided to write about his life. But he disguised the stories.

How did you get to know him well enough to make him a tangible presence

I had to establish a strong back story for Tim. The stories are short, so I needed to know every detail of his life. I had to be Tim when I was writing them, and his ideas were totally different from mine. He was not for gun control. He was very, very antiabortion. I'd never felt so masculine in all my life, even though I've always used male narrators and male characters. I even began thinking like a bartender and bouncer. Friday nights are tougher than Saturday nights from the bouncer's point of view because on Fridays people think they deserve their fun—their hard week is over. By Saturday, they're more relaxed. I don't know how I understood that, but I did.

Did you do any research

I read
Bartending for Dummies
and visited a few bartending sites on the Internet.

How significant is it that Tim's a bouncer as well as a bartender

The fact that Tim's a bouncer factored into the story because he's not a violent person. Even though he has that potential, he would rather prevent a fight than stop one after it's started.

Did Tim become a presence in your life as well as the stories

One time when my husband, David, got home, I was telling him what was going on in the bar that night, and he said, “You're starting to sound like him.” Tim had a heavy voice, and his words carried weight.

How did you see him physically

Very strong. He was 6'2”. He weighed 185 to 190 pounds. He was big-boned but not heavy. His nose had been broken twice, but because he was heavy-boned, it looked okay. He had a lot of presence to him, even though he was quiet. He always wore a baseball cap, and his customers would bring him caps from the different places they'd been. He had quite a collection. The customers had grown to like him because he was a good listener. He also wore Wranglers—or whatever blue jeans were on sale at Kmart—and Timberland lace-up boots. The boots originally started out mustard-colored, but he had spilled so many things on them they'd turned tan.

Tim never makes even a cameo appearance in the stories. Do you think readers can really get to know him through what he's written

Definitely. Even though he called his character Mike, he mentions his aunt and his mother and the step-father he refers to as “the step-bastard.” Tim had lost his father when he was ten. His father had played a huge role in Tim's life, and I think you can pick that up in the stories, too.

Why was it important for you to filter these stories through Tim

It was a different narration process, and I enjoy being different sometimes. Because these stories are very short, they are an arc of life, and they mention things repeatedly. Mike—or Tim—carries guilt for not being in prison with his cousin, when he is just as guilty. That guilt shows up even when it doesn't have anything to do with what's happening in a particular story. To me the stories are a novel in a very condensed form.

How is Tim's writing style different from yours

When I first started writing from Tim's point of view, I was amazed I couldn't do dialogue, because dialogue is my strong point. But dialogue was the hardest part of fiction writing for Tim. In the earlier stories there's not much. But as he got more relaxed with his writing, he got more comfortable using dialogue, too.

Did you ever find yourself slipping out of character and writing as S. E. Hinton

Not with Tim's stories. I was so involved being that narrator that I found myself being Tim when I should have been S. E. Hinton.

Ever get any Wranglers at Kmart

Wranglers, no. And I didn't feel any desire to be addicted to Jack Daniel's, which Tim was, or to smoke, or to wear Timberland boots.

How fully did you come to trust Tim as the storyteller

I trusted him absolutely, because he wasn't writing for publication. He was in love with his creative writing teacher at Tulsa Community College, and that was why he started writing. With her encouragement he got bolder and more fixed in his ideas of what made a story. He wasn't interested in description at all, not as a reader, not as a writer, and yet the stories themselves are very descriptive. He's not saying, “The beautiful green trees by a wonderful blue lake,” but he still gives a strong visual for each story.

What are some of his storytelling eccentricities

He could never hit the apostrophe button, because his big-boned finger always hit the semicolon instead. This doesn't show now because he always went back to polish. When he wrote through the stories the first time, there was no capitalization or punctuation because he just wanted to get them down, and he wasn't fast. A lot of times he wrote stories out in longhand at first because he didn't have a computer at home; he had to wait and use the one at the bar. Also he always used the word “yes,” except once or twice he'd say “yep” when he was in conversation, but not “yeah.” And there was a finality about the way he would say “yes.” I think he got that from his father, who always had that way of saying “yes.”

So you knew the whole family, so to speak

Yes. Tim's mother wasn't a strong woman. When her husband died in a car wreck, she was floundering, married a man she thought would take care of her, and then wasn't strong enough to prevent his abuse of Tim, who left home at seventeen. By the way, Tim finished high school just because the step-bastard said he couldn't.

Of all your first-person narrators, which one is the most like Tim

None of them even come close.

What about technically speaking? Did you have some of the same challenges writing as Tim that you had writing as Rusty-James in
Rumble Fish?
Neither is the gifted observer that Ponyboy is

Tim was so much smarter than Rusty-James. He could learn from his mistakes and profit from them—or at least know he'd made them, whether he could control making them again or not. Rusty-James was so oblivious.

But he still isn't a sophisticated storyteller. What is his strength as a writer

I think the emotional intensity that he brings to his stories. His stories had to start with an emotion.

How did you come up with the premise for the stories, each limited to about a thousand words

For the heck of it. It's like taking dressage, horseback riding: it's a strong discipline, and it's wearing, but it's an accomplishment when you feel you finally got it right. There are some Zen-like moments. When I first started, I'd think there is no way I'm going to be able to cut a story down to a thousand words, but I'd go back, trim it, then trim it again. In my later stories, I would know I had 995 words without ever looking at my word count.

In our very first interview you said that you'd revised
The Outsiders
by adding detail and scenes. How did you pare these stories down to fit the prescribed word length? What sorts of things did you find yourself cutting out

You'd be surprised at how much you don't need in a story. I found out you could do without a lot of adjectives. And without a lot of explanation. In “Different Shorelines,” the story takes place on a lakeshore at different times of the year and in different years, beginning, I think, in 1987. It's spring, and then you go into summer one year later. But you're always at the same lakeshore, and you don't have to describe it. The conversations explain what's going on.

Do you think that
ironically—in some ways you were able to say more with fewer words

I think so. Of course, you don't know how to judge your own work, but these short stories are about as vivid as anything I've written.

In our society, we tend to think that shorter is easier. Is that the case with
Some of Tim's Stories?

I've always thought longer was easier. That's why I never really got into short stories or poetry. In a novel you have more time to set up what's going on and to explore. Tim's stories are a little easier, because they revolve around the same characters in Tim's life. I didn't have to start a whole new premise with each story. Each one can stand alone as a short story. But when you finish, you'll have the feel of a novel.

Why did you decide against writing a frame for the stories that explains the Tim connection and the story format

Because it's such a delicate balance. I could pretend that I met Tim or that his creative writing teacher gave me his stories, but to me that would ruin the concept. I think the observant reader will figure out why they're called Tim's stories. I just didn't want to mess with them. They're rugged—like old pieces of granite—but the thread that holds them together is delicate.

How important, then, is the actual sequence of the stories

I wrote them at completely different times. It wasn't until I was through that I decided on the order. But I wanted to develop a time mark so that one story could help explain another. When you read “Sentenced” and Mike's aunt mentions his old girlfriend, he says, “I don't see her anymore.” Then you realize that in the previous story, “The Girl Who Loved Movies,” Amber is the girl. There's a later story where Mike's talking about a memory he had from childhood, when he heard his dad having a nightmare, but it turns out it's really about Mike/Tim being in love with this other woman. By the placement of the story, you can see she was his creative writing teacher. These aren't flashbacks; they're memory stories.

In many ways your writing style in these stories reminds me of Elmore Leonard's. I know you've read his western novels. What literary influence do you think guided your approach to this collection

Of course, you like to think of yourself as influence-free, but even Homer was influenced by somebody. So, probably Hemingway. I've got tons of biographies about him; he's an absolutely fascinating character. You couldn't make up this man. But his short stories are the only writings of his that I really admire, and I think—probably—his spare style influenced me.

In “Class Time,” Mike has read Hemingway's
To Have and Have Not.
Is that one of your favorites

I'd always heard
To Have and Have Not
was one of Hemingway's worst books. But when I was taking a movie class just a few years ago, we studied the film version, and I finally read the novel. I thought it was great. That'll teach me to listen to other people's opinions! Mike also mentions that he can't read Henry James. I enjoy Henry James.

You've often said that you re-read Jane Austen's work about once every year. What have you learned from reading her novels that's made you a better writer

Her revelation of character through dialogue is just fascinating, and that's what I do best.

In many ways, Mike and Terry are reminiscent of your earlier characters. How do they transcend those roles

I might be reverting. We talked about this earlier—one of my closest relationships when I was growing up was with my cousin, Jimmy. We were raised like brother and sister. We did everything together—skied, fished, played football. Our families were always with each other. That bond is even stronger with Mike and Terry, because they're double first cousins. Their fathers are brothers, and their moms are sisters. They have the same backgrounds and are bound together, but they're certainly not the same people.

You've already mentioned Tim's mom and her weakness. In the book Aunt Jelly is a remote but powerful presence. Would you agree that she's one of your most fully realized characters

Yes, but I go back and forth between calling her “Aunt Jelly” and “Julie.” “Jelly” is obviously a childhood nickname for her. She was probably always making the boys jelly sandwiches. I have an aunt Eloise (that's my middle name) who was called “Peeny” because she always liked “peeny” butter sandwiches. Aunt Jelly is a strong woman, except that she spoils Terry. She'd like to spoil Mike, but he won't let her. He's the responsible one. One of the lines in the stories says it best: Mike's step-father's resentment was probably no worse than Terry's mom's indulgence.

Do you think you, aka Tim, have taken your initial themes to a new level through these characters

Maybe so. They're not outsiders. In
Hawkes Harbor
, Grenville was an outsider and so was Jamie to a certain degree. Only at the end of the book did Jamie realize that the townspeople accepted him as another citizen. Tim's stories are about how your environment and your own personality shape your life. Tim has a drinking problem, but he doesn't take any steps to rectify it, even though he knows he should. In his environment, his drinking is accepted. Terry's the one who doesn't drink, and he gets in the most trouble.

BOOK: Some of Tim's Stories
5.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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