Once again, Jason Rodriguez, editor of the upcoming anthology Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened, presents a conversation he had with one of the creators involved in the anthology. And here’s Jason …
Yesterday I posted a conversation with Chris Stevens and Gia-Bao Tran, the writer and illustrator behind “Blue,” one of the 16 stories in my upcoming anthology, Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened. Today’s conversation is with Antony Johnston, the writer on Image Comic’s newest Young Adults series, Texas Strangers and Oni’s post-apocalyptic spaghetti western, Wasteland. For Postcards, he collaborated with Noel Tuazon, the illustrator for Villard Book’s Elk’s Run, to deliver a story of longing and rebellions titled “Best Side Out.”
The postcard that inspired their tale was sent Aug. 3, 1909, from Ly of Simpson Corner, Nova Scotia, to her (assumed) sister, Laura. It reads:
Am living yet or staying just as you may call it and am just as tired and perhaps more so than you are of everything but a person must always put the best side out and not get discouraged. Look for better days to come suppose they are no better. We are nearly done haying and the new barn is up but not finished. I am glad. I think the hardest is over. I wish you were down here. I saw Vi a few minutes. Good Bye. With Love. Ly.
Write soon. With love.
Jason: Of the 15 cards that were used in this book, yours was the only one that really didn’t have a stand-out line scrawled on the back. It was a routine correspondence; one person writing to see how the other’s doing. I have hundreds of cards like these.
If I remember correctly, you picked this card out of three or four cards that I sent to you and you pulled an incredibly rich story out of it, despite its apparent levity. What attracted you to this card? Was it the challenge or did a story or character just jump out at you?
Antony: I don’t know that I’d call it routine, or say it has levity. Even assuming, as I do in the story, that “La” and “Ly” really were sisters, the card is full of very personal stuff that you wouldn’t normally reveal in conversation. She’s clearly depressed, with no light at the end of the tunnel. She just seems tired of life.
I’ve always been attracted to melancholy, tragic stories. I can’t help myself. And with this card, I think I saw a very sad but unfortunately common tale, especially in the pre-suffrage times it was sent, where two sisters have been separated by circumstance and the paths of their lives; and one of them is desperately unhappy about it.
I think, mainly, I was trying to avoid being too gimmicky. I’ve done a lot of short stories for anthologies, and it’s very easy to fall into traps. There are a dozen or more stories to read, so how can you make yours stick in the reader’s mind? It’s always tempting to go for comedy or shock value to make that impact, and I’ll stick my hand up as guilty on both counts in the past. Formalism is another route, using a strange format or pacing technique to stand out just by means of the craft, which I’ve used before. But for Postcards I really wanted to be more respectful of the source. I mean, a real person sent this card. I struggled with that, to be honest. It turned writing my story into a real challenge, this desire to show respect for the real “Ly.” But I do like a challenge, and I think it was worth it in the end.
Jason: These cards were written by real people – great point. And, like you said, Ly certainly comes off as someone who doesn’t see a light at the end of the tunnel. What I find interesting is the fact that the Ly in your story tended to look away from the end of the tunnel, but not in a way that made her oblivious or naive. She found little ways to empower herself, even if it was apparent to her what the big picture really looked like.
Was this done out of respect for the historical Ly, whoever she may be? An overall wish that someone with this much sadness inside her could find a way to alleviate it?
Antony: Not consciously, but now that you mention it… I think we all have some hope that people in that sort of situation can find ways to alleviate it, don’t we? It’s only natural. The alternative is just too damn bleak.
And no, the story character of Lydia isn’t naive, or stupid. She understands her situation perfectly, but by the same token she’s also intelligent enough to know there’s no practical way to escape that situation without society passing (a probably very harsh and unfair) judgment on her.
So that was the conscious reason, I think – that the alternative was just too bleak, even for me. I’m a fairly traditional kind of storyteller at heart, and adhere very strongly to the notion that drama equals conflict. But conflict requires two sides to be working against one another – not just one side dishing it all out with no retaliation from the other side.
If I’d just written about how terrible Ly’s life was, how depressed she was and that there was no hope for her… that’s not a drama filled with conflict, it’s a portrait of abuse. It just wasn’t the sort of story I wanted to write for this book.
Jason: On last question, I have to ask it. I love Noel Tuazon. I worked with Noel for close to two years on Elk’s Run. I can go on for pages and pages about why he rocks me but this is about your story. So – what was it like working with Noel?
Antony: It was great. I mean, we didn’t have all that much contact, but I know he did the visual reference research necessary for the story, and you can tell from the art that he gave the setting, clothing styles and so on a lot of thought. And he tells a good story, without resorting to useless flash, with a good naturalistic style. I’d work with Noel again, for sure.
And that wraps up today’s conversation. Tomorrow I’ll be talking to Matt Dembicki and Jason Copland about their contribution to Postcards: True Stories That Never Happened, “Send Louis His Underwear.”