Chris Reilly Short Stories
My guest today is writer, director, actor, voice-over artist, and musician Christopher Reilly, a St Louis based author and creative. Yes, he has a long list of talents and credits to his name. Having known Chris for almost four years now, I would also add that he has a wonderful sense of humor and an easy going demeanor that make him a pleasure to be around and work with.
Chris will be publishing a collection of short stories in an anthology of writers called "Slice of Tequila, Shot of Bread" compiled by St. Louis Book Publishers (stlbookpub.org), and the topic of our conversation today. I have long admired Chris' writing; from simple blog posts to feature magazine articles, from a few paragraphs of memoir to full fictional short shorties. He always has a way of bringing out the truth, however small, and laying it out to his readers in an unexpected way that really captivates.
I sat down to talk with him about his short stories, and here's what he had to say.
MR: Welcome Chris, it's great to see you.
CR: Thanks, Michelle. Great to see you too.
MR: So Chris, you will have a collection of short stories published in an anthology that will be out in the spring titled Slice of Tequila, Shot of Bread. I'd like to talk about a couple of them with you today if I may.
CR: Sure, go right ahead.
MR: I got to read two of the short stories in your collection, "Butterfly" and "The Flinging of the Cows". Let's start with "Butterfly".
CR: All right.
MR: You mentioned that Butterfly was inspired by a true story. What of that story did you already know and what inspired you about it to take it further.
CR: It was little more than a blurb in a newspaper. It just said that in Japan somewhere, a woman was discovered living in a man's apartment closet after he noticed food missing from his refrigerator and became suspicious. He then put up a surveillance camera and caught her on tape. She was then discovered after a thorough search, and she had been in this tiny space by climbing up to the top of his closet and squeezing in this space. That was all. It was actually a while after reading that story that I decided to plot a story around that.
MR: So it stuck with you?
CR: Yes it did. It made me wonder how it was possible and who the person was...what had led her to living in a person's closet secretly. And also about the guy and what his reaction was, because that wasn't discussed in the article. It had said she had been very clean though.
MR: How long after you saw this story did you finally decide to write about your version of it?
CR: About a year. I set out to write a fictional short story and while conceiving an idea, I remembered that article.
MR: To me it has such a sad ending. Not because the old woman was caught, but because it really shows how blown, seemingly out of proportion, the main character Iwao's drive and character had become through his obsession in catching her. Throughout the story, I felt the acuteness of his mindset grow and expand, of his wanting to succeed so much in his job that he spills certain mentalities into his personal life. I mean, it's an appropriate ending, certainly, but did you ever think it could have gone another way? Did you ever think he could have made a different decision than the one he made?
CR: Do you think? I'm not so sure. Butterfly + metamorphosis. I leave it up to the reader to decide what happens next. So you made it sad in your head. But yes, it was important to me to develop him as the driven businessman and his callousness towards humanity in favor of his success. You know, excess at any cost and damn anyone who gets in my way. She is an outcast by society for being old and poor, but she had led a noble life.
MR: Exactly. So the title, I'm assuming comes not only from the meaning of her name, but also from as you say a metamorphosis?
CR: Yes. the closet is her cocoon, pretty much literally. And then who shows her compassion? The cop. Authority, exactly who you wouldn't expect compassion to come from. The story ends with them laughing, and the reader decides what happens next.
MR: I want to now jump to the second story I've previewed, "The Flinging of the Cows".
CR: Yes. Sure.
MR: That one had a sad ending as well. We won't say what the sadness is about, but I have to ask, why did you choose that sort of ending? So devastating.
CR: I'm not sure. I think I was sad when I wrote it. I think the ending was a surprise to me too. All I knew is that I was going to fling some cows.
MR: Why cow flinging?
CR: In the story he says he saw it on TV. On an old episode of Northern Exposure, there was cow flinging in one episode. I had written a blog post about flying cows, where I looked for whether cow flinging was really a thing. It wasn't. But I was surprised to learn that there are all kinds of references to flying cows, like bars named that, or shops, etc. So anyway, I thought it should be a thing. So I created a situation and reason where I could fling some cows.
MR: Let's take a moment and watch that scene here. This episode from the hit TV series, Northern Exposure, is called "The Flying Cow". In this scene, Chris and Dr. Fleischman talk about Chris' wanting to catapult a cow through the air. Lets take a look.
MR: I miss that show...
MR: Back to your story, "The Flinging of the Cows".
CR: Well, you know, the flinging cows is only the shell of the story. It's about much more than that. It's not really about that at all. That's all the...you know, his wife left him. He views her as heartless. He's flinging his wife, really. In his mind, I mean. He's not aware of this of course. He's just compelled.
MR: Yes, I definitely got that sense, that discomfort. I love that. That's the perfect adjective to use here, compelled. And that's exactly it. What we are compelled to do when we don't feel like we can really do what we probably ought to be doing. Like the way he responded in his mind to the TV dinner, but he never said a word to his wife about how he really felt.
CR: Yes. And that's how he is dealing with the loss, which is contrasted by the simplicity with which their marriage ended, he then goes through this incredibly elaborate thing to deal with it, instead of having done something simple at the time to save his marriage.
MR: There was such disconnect.
CR: Yeah. And, I want readers to like the guy, but also be kind of disconcerted by him. And then of course the ending, because life just piles the shit on, you know.
MR: Yeah, it really does. I want to talk about the scene where his neighbor asks him what exactly is going on over there.
CR: My favorite scene of all time. I have talked and hung out with a lot of farmers, and that's how they are.
MR: It's mainly dialogue, but you really get such a sense of the body language and the expressions that these two men have as they're talking about the cow flinging details.
the neighbor, he accepts the cow flinging but I got the
sense that he initially questioned the main character's actions. "Was it a live cow, George?" like he should be wondering exactly how stable his neighbor was. But only for a brief moment.
CR: Yeah. Questions it, then gets over it, then wants to participate. I'm fond of the part where he asks how far the cow went, and the other guy stops everything to think about it because it seemed like "it was tremendously important." I mean, never mind you flung a cow with a catapult you built, what's important is how far did it go.
MR: Yes, yes!
CR: That's like typical man stuff.
MR: I didn't get all the correlations right away when I read it, I mean like how you said that the heartless cow flinging was his response to his relationship with his wife, and that the cow symbolized his wife whom he deemed to be a heartless woman. What I initially thought was that he was crazy, or that perhaps he was the one that de-hearted, if you will, the cows or something weird, but there was definitely that strong sense of mourning, frustration, disturbance, from the very beginning, like he was trying to gain control of something he wasn't in control of. That's something I thought about after I'd finished, or at least after George's conversation with his neighbor.
CR: Dead animals being found with just the hearts missing stories have been going around for a long time.
MR: Yes, that I recognized but didn't know where it was going until later. So as a reader I think I felt that same discomfort George was feeling, though in a different way. Does that make sense?
CR: Well, in a way, he's not in control. but actually that makes me very happy. All this symbolism I'm talking about is all me realizing it's in there after the fact. I didn't set out to have all this symbolism in it at all. This was a story I literally wrote in one sitting. It just kind of poured out and I seemed to not have complete control of it. I was sort of aware that there were symbolic things happening in the story I was writing, but it was organic, you know. I didn't intend it. Yes, it does make sense, and it makes me happy that you thought so. Were you able to give up your initial concepts about it and stay in the story?
MR: Yes, I definitely was able to stay in the story. I just had a lot of anxiety and I kept wondering, "What? What? Why? Why? What's going to happen? This is killing me. I don't know if I should laugh or cry..." Those sorts of things were going through my mind. It was when George and his neighbor were talking that I finally calmed down a bit. I don't know exactly what was going on in that scene to do that to me, but there you have it. I think the neighbor sort of took my place. Like, he was who I related to? I guess? He was the one asking the questions. The questions I wanted to know the answers to. And he came in at just the right time. A time when there was enough history of George in the story so that those questions could finally be asked.
CR: Good. It is a strange story, I guess. It doesn't seem that strange to me for obvious reasons, so it's interesting to me to hear how you reacted.
MR: Now, you have a third short story that you've mentioned to me.
CR: Yes. I didn't send it because I wanted you to have one left.
MR: Good! What is it titled and what can you tell us about it?
CR: It's called "The Strange Tale of Georgy Malechek.". Most of us use the Internet, and we have "on-line" friends. And they become very real friends in spite of the fact that you've never met them. It's this weird direction that society is going in where face-to-face human interaction is a part of our lives less and less. I think there are serious implications there, and that in the long run, it will be a detriment to society. We won't deal with people so well socially because like anything, it takes practice. And yet we march on into these internet lives. This is about a guy for whom the Internet becomes his whole life, and something is revealed, particular to him, that will make you think about social networks in a very different way. I can't say more without giving away the ending.
MR: I can't wait to read it. Well, Chris, I want to thank you so much for sitting down and talking with me today. It's been a pleasure.
CR: Thanks for having me. Wanna grab a bagel?
MR: Sure! Thank you all for joining us. *Be sure to check out our "after interview extra" below.*
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CR: What is that vid? Did you put that there?
MR: Oh wait, was I suppose to act like in this video? And yeah, I put that there. Was that what you were referring to when you mentioned the bagels? Were we thinking the same thing? Or are you serious, because I could really go for some food.
CR: No. New york, bagels...
MR: You got some? Or are you expecting me to go to New York. Because let me just say, that's not happening right now. Going to new york I mean. Just for bagels.
CR: No. but that's where Terry Gross does her show, I think.
MR: Oh.... I'm there.
CR: I was playing the Terry Gross thing.
MR: Right. I was too hungry to get it. So when's the next flight?CR: I love new york bagels, with cream cheese and lox.
MR: Lox? I've got some in my freezer.
CR: Smoked salmon.
MR: I hate lox. Disgusting. I don't think I've ever eaten them.
CR: I don't know what you think is so gross about it.