Award-winning author, Danielle Evans, graced CLA’s virtual stage on February 3rd via Crowdcast. She read from her collection, “Anything Could Happen,” which follows Vera, a twenty-one-year-old woman who, unexpectedly, becomes a mother to an abandoned child. With each sentence, Evans' world became more vividly alive and beautifully rendered.
After her reading, Evans spoke in conversation with writer and lawyer Renee Simms. Simms kicked off the discussion with a question concerning Evans' writing process. Specifically, she asked, "how much does Evans trust the decisions her characters make and follow that thread, and how much of it is plotting?"
Evans considered Simms’ question with earnestness and respect before offering the audience craft gems.
She stated writing the first draft offers her discovery: who the characters are, what they want, etc. Then, during revision, the process becomes intentional, wherein Evans decides which decisions or moments of impulse from a character are interesting. What helps her determine what's interesting? The lies.
“Lies capture the energy of a story, the possibility of a story. The tension or surprise in a story comes from the moments when we see the difference between someone’s external life and interior life. When we can see the performance and the person at the same time. . . . A lie is when both of those moments are happening at once."
Evans further discussed two kinds of structure existing for the short story: 1) stories where the character knows what kind of story they're in and 2) the kind where they don't. For Evans, these two types of stories are structured differently.
For the former, the character relays the story in a manner that the sequence builds in consequence of something. That is to say, the character moves towards or sees where the important thing in the story happens. Concerning the latter structural type, the character is oblivious to the story they are suspended in. Consequently, these structural frames hinge on point of view, and point of view impacts how information will be signaled to the reader and characters as well.
The discussion then shifted to the subject of history in The Office of Historical Corrections. Evans consideration about history is thought provoking and illuminating:
“History is a story that always has its agenda and blind spots, and there’s something interesting about that gap. What does the story of history tell us about who we think we are, and who we want to be, and what is the distance between that and people’s perceptions or objective truth?
From this position, Evans tunneled into her thoughts and announced that for The Office of Historical Corrections, she chose to think about the gaps and absences in history and what that does to one's sense of storytelling, imagination, and understanding of who we believe ourselves to be. She then proceeded, following another of Simms' questions, to discuss the role of personal history in her story collection, which deals heavily with trauma and grief.
For Evans, personal history reveals a character's anxiety and how it intersects with agency. Her stories capture people struggling for agency despite not having it for the things that matter most. As such, this tension lends itself to plot throughout her stories:
“The plot is about evasion, which means a lot of story can happen and a lot of forward motion can take place, but the story has the most gravity when the story pauses and you can see around all the work that’s being done to avoid what hurts."
- Danielle Evans
Returning to Vera from "Anything Can Happen," we see this clearly: a young woman's world is precarious and without reliable form but is temporarily and superficially structured and gains meaning when she becomes a temporary mother. Once reality resumes, so to speak, Vera returns to her original position, lost.
Towards the end of the evening, Evans continued to grace the audience with wisdom and craft advice, illuminating that she is not only perceptive and smart but also generous, reflective, and compassionate -- qualities that emanate throughout her work.
The Office of Historical Corrections is truly an outstanding collection, and CLA has been honored to have Danielle Evans as our guest. If you have yet to read the collection, we highly suggest that you do, and join us on February 20th for our February book club meeting taking place at 4 PM over Zoom. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for additional details!