22: Jacqueline Baker, "What Tells"

It's December 22. Jacqueline Baker, author of The Broken Hours, can spot a Baptist at a hundred yards.

How would you describe your story?

JACQUELINE BAKER: I am the absolute worst at answering this question. I would rather answer any other question. Anything. You name it.

When did you write it, and how did the writing process compare to your other work?

JB: One of the things I tell my students is, Never throw anything away. It may not be working at the time, but it might if you come back to it with a clarity of vision distance sometimes brings. I haven't always followed my own advice. But this story was one of those cases. I'd written a version of this story as an undergrad at UVic. I hadn't looked at it in years. Back then, I don't think I had a clear sense of what the story was about. When I pulled it out again last fall, the focus of the story just leapt out at me and I wondered what all the fuss was about back then in not being able to see it. This is a revised version, of course. And it doesn't always work that way. Alice Munro says sometimes you can't go back to the "what" of what a story was. And that's true. But sometimes you can see the "what" more clearly with a bit of distance.

What, for you, are the essential elements of a good short story? 

JB: I don't know that I think there necessarily are any essential elements. I think you can get away with whatever you can get away with. But, as some other writer -- probably Flannery O'Connor -- said, No one's really gotten away with very much. As a reader, I guess I want to intrigued in some way, I want to feel that this moment, however brief, however quiet, is important. I think that's how life is. So much meaning -- so much that is vital -- rests in those quiet, understated moments that slide past us. And, I suppose, I want a bit of mystery. I think the short story as a narrative form is so much better suited to this than the novel.

Where can people go to learn more about you and your work?

JB: Anne McDermid & Associates: http://mcdermidagency.com/authors/jacqueline-baker/.

Still haven't gotten around to creating an author website.

What's on your Christmas list this year?

JB: An author website? I don't know. I don't really have a list. Peace on earth? Goodwill toward men? Warmer mitts for my winter bike commute?