The Unexamined Life: Chloe Hogan-Weihmann in Conversation with Katherin Edwards

Katherin Edwards

Photo credit: Donna Kane

Malahat volunteer Chloe Hogan-Weihmann talks with our 2017 Far Horizons Award for Fiction contest winner, Katherin Edwards, whose story, "Faster Horses," was chosen for the $1000 prize. Her story will be published in Issue #201, Winter 2017.

 

Of Edwards' winning entry, contest judge Steven Price said it "has passages of aching beauty, but what haunted me most is the hard clear handling of its protagonist's inner life, its refusal of the sentimental, and how all this is set against a delicate portrait of a person not yet prepared to give up on life."

I love hearing how stories came to be. How did you first begin to conceive "Faster Horses"? How did it grow and change from the first inkling of an idea into the final draft?

The idea originated when I recalled a story about my grandmother who lived fairly far off a main road and how when she became ill had to be taken in the back of a truck on a mattress to meet the ambulance. Now, whether or not that is a true story…From there I began thinking, what would being tied down on a mattress going through the woods look like? What does examining a life look like? Then I began creating a character (Sam), an old racehorse trainer who has returned from the racetrack unwell. Sam has promises that need to be kept and while he can no longer drive he could still fulfill them from a slightly different angle. And it went from there. It started out as a short story for Bill Gaston's fiction class at UVic (circa 2006), and morphed into a novel, with this being the opening scene. Then I reworked it to fit into the short story market. Memory also interests me; how it changes. I was a gallop girl and groom on various racetracks for seven years beginning in my late teens. It was a world filled with characters and life. I wanted to capture that while it was still relatively fresh in my memory, and I believe by writing we preserve our personal history and if you can fictionalize a bit…

The setting for the story seems very well-conceived and realistic. The mention of mile markers and various landmarks along the road they're travelling really brought the surroundings to life. Is it based on a real place? If so, what about this place made you want to write about it?

This is based on a real place, yes. I grew up on a ranch just outside of Kamloops and Greenstone Mountain was in my back yard. There is a Selby's field, and there were hand-painted mile markers, though in this story they are far from being placed accurately. Every summer my dad would drive me and usually a friend (in a green Ford truck) up to the top of the mountain to scout around the fire lookout post. Sometimes we'd take a picnic. It was pure enchantment with a terrific view. We'd stop to drink mountain water and explore the hunting cabin my dad and uncle built decades earlier. Again, writing to capture memory.

I found it interesting how Sam's reminiscence of his golden years of fame as a horse trainer is immediately and abruptly followed by his admittance to himself that he "could have been a better father." What was your intention with this juxtaposition?

I think when you are ensconced in a career where the job is a lifestyle, and you're there from five in the morning till very late at night for nine plus months of the year, it's easy to forget any sort of life exists outside the main secured gate. Sam has forgotten his "real" (home) life. So while he's reminiscing, it occurs to him that he's in the back of a truck and it's his daughter who is driving, but not well enough or up to his expectations. He realizes his little girl grew up without him, and the revelation hits like lightning that he may need to take ownership of how he's feeling and the judgments he's making about her, considering he was an absent father. The line, "could have been a better father," flashed into my head and was definitely unintended. But it does seem to fit there.

How did you decide to end the story the way you did—"If only to hold a gun"?

I need to give a nod to Richard Wagamese. I was entering a different contest and Richard, a neighbour at the time, kindly read the story and suggested that it needed to have a hint at resolution. He felt that as it stood it was a suspended arc. I rewrote and rewrote and added and subtracted but oddly just before I hit "send" to fly it off for this contest I added the final two lines, which I think strongly suggests possibilities beyond the ending.

What feeling or message did you most want to convey to readers?

I think the message is that life can gallop or crawl away from a person if they're not paying attention. Though it's almost impossible to be present in every moment, I do think when there are periods the dust settles it's good to "catch up" and examine the tracks of your life and accept the responsibility of them. It can be frightening to look back and wonder how you got from there to here without connecting the dots along the way. An unexamined life is a waste. If you haven't been paying attention, be prepared to be surprised at life's changes.

Deciding on a title can be awfully tricky, and many writers do it last of all. How did you settle on the title, and did it come before, after, or in the middle of the story?

This piece has been renamed at least four times. "Faster Horses" seemed to fit best for this short story on a several levels. For one, faster horses are what kept Sam on the track for so many years. There is a great little song called "Faster Horses" by Tom T. Hall that Sam loves (in the novel form), and faster horses is a nod to his home life overtaking the speed of what any of his horses could have run. As fast as you think you're moving there is something that is going to be faster, and in Sam's case, his illness was outrunning him. Which is, of course to say, it still may still be renamed as the novel undergoes its rewriting.

 

Chloe HW

Chloe Hogan-Weihmann

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