Tuesday, July 23, 2013

What Men Love For - Dale Ray Phillips

And now we land here.  A story I really enjoyed.  Again, I can’t place my finger on it – and I’ve given it the requisite amount of thought – as to why this story appeals to me.  Perhaps it is the mother – suffering from mental illness.

Perhaps it is the son – the bridge between the mother and father – working to keep the family together.

Perhaps it is the relationship between the father and the son.
Yes, I think that’s it.

I often think about how W and I will grow older together and I wonder about our father/son relationship.  I am so excited to spend time with him – time that my father never spent with me.
The image that Phillips paints of the father and son riding a motorcycle at night and winding down a road, and leaning hard and fast into a curve…

I want that for W and I in the future.

I want him behind me holding on for dear life, trusting me, learning what it is to be a man.
It’s going to be wonderful and I simply can’t wait.

Concerning Dale Ray Phillips –

He writes in the contributors’ notes:

“My theory of writing is a simple one: write to make the hair on the back of a reader’s neck stand up.  This can be accomplished with either plot or revelation.  I am one of those writers who should probably write and not talk about his work.”

Because I am so fond of this story and appreciated the style of writing, I thought to discover a little more about Phillips.  It’s true, it appears that there isn’t much of him out there talking but I did find a wonderful interview with him conducted back in 2002 and published in 2003.

I decided to pull a few passages from it to highlight here because I believe they are important.
The interview was conducted by George Hovis and Timothy Williams as their shared several pitchers of beer at a restaurant.

“I think anyone who wants to be a writer should read at least one story a day. When I was young, in the summers I was working in a cotton mill, as a dyeweigher, right? Haw River, North Carolina, third shift. I'd come home. There was a library in Burlington. And it had Best American Short Stories and O. Henries. And for some reason, I thought, well, shit, what year to start with? 1955 was when I was born, so I thought, I can't be responsible for anything before my birth, okay?
So I climbed up on the roof and took a lounge chair up there. And some gin. And I'd lay up there. I was into suntanning. Look what it did to me. I'd lay up there and drink and read until I got sleepy.”

I decided to include this passage for the obvious reasons – but there is a secondary reason too.  After graduating from Norwich I lived with my father, step-mother and ½ sister in New Jersey.  I was welcomed into their house with open arms and for the first 6 months of living with them I was basically getting used to the real world again.  This was the summer of 1994.  A good portion of that time was spent reading classic Russian literature in the backyard under the hot sun drinking either beer or scotch.  Alcohol mixed with 90 degree temps leads to a pretty quick buzz and only a few pages being read. But those were some of the best books I ever read. Phillips sat on a roof – I sat in the back yard.

Learn to be your best critic. Don't be in love with every sentence you write. At one point, you have to sit down and read it as if your worst enemy wrote it. Go easy on metafiction. An experimental story is about the writer and the way it has been twisted. A traditional story moves me. When you read something really good, what happens to the back of your neck? It's a mammalian response. Your hair stands up. That's what you want to happen in the reader 

Look at those last few sentences – the man sticks to his technique. Props!


  1. What a thoughtful post. I'm so pleased to see folks reading and writing about Dale Ray Phillips, who is a dear friend of mine; we work together on the New Madrid literary journal, and I learn mounds just talking with him. In fact, the photo you're using in your post is one that I took about five years ago. I stumbled into your post, was drawn by what you wrote, and discovered you're a Norwich grad! How about that. My husband teaches at Norwich University, and we live three blocks from the campus, in Northfield. Small world, indeed. You have an interesting quest. Sounds like an idea. Maybe I'll go back and start reading at 1971, the year I was born.

  2. Dale Ray is a professor at Murray State University. My professor, actually. And the quotes you've used are words he still says to this day, more often than not, during class. This is a man that pushes you outside of your comfort zone and accepts nothing less than the very best. He would be very impressed with your quest, and would likely says that you're going to be a writer someday.