Patrick Dacey’s story “Once More Before Its Too Late” appears in AGNI 86.
Leone Brander for AGNI: Your story “Once More Before It’s Too Late” has such a compelling and unique first-person speaker and I really admired how his language captured his character. Specifically, I wanted to ask you: What goes into creating such a strong first-person voice? Do you have a specific person(s) you are trying to emulate, or are you more focused on language?
I start first with voice. For me, that’s the most important part of writing a story, and the most difficult. Writers, like a lot of crazy people, hear voices. And you have to pick which ones are the loudest to get at a story you find worth telling. With this story, I started with the line, “So maybe I am uneven,” and went from there. From the voice comes the character. To me, he sounded defensive, and so this story took on the shape of a defense for the reckless actions he takes to try and prove he’s a better father than we initially perceive him to be. I think here and in most of my recent work, the impact of what I’m seeing in our country and around the world is very present. The characters I’m hearing want to be better people; know they can be better; and struggle to figure out how.
It’s interesting to me that the whole story began with a single line of voice. How much did voice dictate the plot in this piece? Is this a common way that you formulate your stories?
Voice can carry a story, really, because that voice is responsible for the other characters’ actions, words, and reactions, all of which are perceived in a specific way by this one narrator. That’s why I don’t believe an unreliable narrator exists. Most people think they’re pretty reliable, and they wouldn’t tell you a story about how tragically unreliable they are, would they? Maybe on their death beds. Maybe that’s why there are so many terrible death bed novels.
Once you realize how reliably unreliable narrators actually are, then you can fool around with how this narrator would tell the story to a specific person—so the story changes if he’s telling it to his friend, mother, co-worker, etc—and it becomes multiple versions of the same story.
I think about all this as I start out, but there are images that appear, too, as in this story, like the image of the insides of the old courthouses on Cape Cod, the beauty, yet rigidity of those colonial buildings. These images are of a place, really. So if I have this voice in a specific place, I can start to feel the story this character needs to tell.
Leone Brander is an editorial assistant at AGNI. (1/2018)