These questions and answers are taken from electronic messages between Bobbie Ann Mason and Kentucky high school students. They communicated on KET-Net, a dial-in education computer bulletin board, in November 1995.
To: Ms. Mason
In your story "Drawing Names": What place in Kentucky did this take place?
Your story "Residents and transients" is very confusing, but how old are the lovers, because they act and talk very childish, but they seem old. And what year did this take place?
I'd like to know why you decided to write a story about a woman who loves to paint watermelons, and what inspired you too? I'd also like to know if you know Rick Trevino (the country singer) since he sings a song about "Bobbie Ann Mason"?
Questions of the story "Offerings"
What time frame or year is this story in?
What was he offering?
Did you live this story? and what are the offerings?
Why do you not want the grandmother to know all of this stuff going on?
How did you get the name of the title "Offerings"?
From: Amanda Murphy
Where did you get the idea in "Old Things" to put Paducah in this story, and have you ever spent any time there?
I don't understand the ending of the short story "Love Life." Why did you end it this way?
To: Ms. Mason
How do you come up with ideas for your characters and stories? I am also currently reading "In Country"; I was wondering if a real life experience was involved in the writing of that book?
To: Ms. Mason
On the short story "Graveyard Day"
How did you come up with this story?
From: Amanda Burns
Does Waldeen marry Joe McClain?
Have you ever been to Kentucky Lake?
What does the ending mean? And why does it end like that?
Why doesn't Waldeen say yes to Joe when he asks her to marry him?
I'll take your questions in the order I received them:
To Sharon about "Drawing Names": Most of my stories, including this one, are set in western Kentucky, the place I know best. I was born and raised near Mayfield, Kentucky. I don't put my stories in the real Mayfield though -- I often put them in an imaginary town I call Hopewell, which I imagine is near Paducah, just like Mayfield really is.
To Brooke about "Residents and Transients": I'm sorry if you found the story confusing. Maybe you'll find it less confusing if you read it again. In any case, the lovers are adults. They may sound childish because adults often do sound childish: when they are being playful, or when they are joking, or when they are being foolish, or when they let their guard down... As for when the story happened see my answer to Josh about "Offerings."
To Lisa, about "Still Life with Watermelon": It's usually hard to say where ideas for stories come from. Sometimes I'll just see something or hear a snatch of conversation or remember something, and I'll get interested and wonder what it means, so I'll start turning it over in my mind. So then I'll make up a story about it to try to see what sense I can make of it. With "Still Life with Watermelon," I had heard of an eccentric who collected watermelon paintings, and it made me wonder why someone would do that, so I invented a story about the subject. (As for Rick Trevino: I have met him. I went to hear him sing at Rupp Arena in Lexington. The song is not really about me, but it was named for me. The guy who wrote the song likes my fiction and the sound of my name.)
To Josh, about "Offerings": I don't recall that the story is set in any particular year. I wrote it in 1979, so the events could have happened then. But they could probably happen today just as well. Most fiction, if it is any good, is about how people really are, deep down, so it could be about people far away and long ago, or about people here and now, and it would ultimately be the same.
To Amy about "Offerings": You're asking a very good question, but I'm going to give you a tricky answer. You see, I don't think I should decide what a story means and then tell you what to think. Instead, I think you should reach your own conclusions. A story should stand on its own; besides, the author can't always be around to explain it. But I'll say this much: We all take things during our lives (from the world, and from each other), and we also give things back. We receive and we offer. That's the give-and-take of life. Sandra decides to make an offering to the wildcat, and if you think about it maybe you'll see other offerings that she and other characters in the story make.
To Kandi, about "Offerings": At the time I wrote this story, I lived on a farm a lot like Sandra's, and I had a lot of cats there. (I still have a lot of cats. I love cats.) But otherwise the story is all made up. I've never been separated from my husband, for example, so I'm not like Sandra that way. In general, I don't base many of my stories on real people or real events. My novella "Spence + Lila" drew pretty heavily on some real experiences, but my novel Feather Crowns is almost the only fiction I've ever written that was really closely based on real events. As for what the "Offerings" were, see my answers to Amy, Kristy, and Leslie.
To Kristy, about "Offerings": Be sure not to mix up the author with the characters. I myself was not trying to hide anything from the grandmother. Sandra and her mother try to protect the grandmother by not telling her things that would upset her. They feel the grandmother is old-fashioned and frail, and might not be up to hearing about some of the sad things that happen in the modern world. Maybe their effort to protect her is a kind of offering they make to her.
To Leslie, about "Offerings": The title must have come to me after I wrote the part about Sandra deciding that she wouldn't mind if the wildcat took her ducks. Sandra decides "They are her offering." As for what this might mean, see my answers to Amy and Kristy above.
To Amanda, about "Old Things": Paducah shows up in some of my stories and novels since it is in Western Kentucky and that's the area I write about most. (See my answer to Sharon, above.) In my novel "In Country," the characters often like to go to Paducah to shop, for example, since it is the biggest city in the region. Referring to Paducah occasionally is a way for me to help readers to know in general where the events in the stories are taking place.
To Keely, about "Love Life": This is another good question, similar to the one Amy asked. My answer is sort of like what I said to Amy. I hate to announce what the ending of a story means, because I don't want to control what you think about it. The ending is partly yours to figure out. I'm not saying that the ending can have any old meaning anybody wants. But if you think carefully about everything that happened in the story, you should be able to see various implications in the ending. What I do when I'm writing is to keep a story going until I reach a moment when I feel everything in the story has come to a point where it all fits together and where the final words in the story shimmer, throwing a light back over everything that has come before. If the ending throws you off balance a little or puts questions in your mind, that may be a good thing -- it's part of the fun of reading a story and thinking it over. A good story should have a powerful emotional effect. You should feel something about the characters and their situation -- more than you would feel if the author wrote a bare explanation instead of a fully developed story.
To Andrea: It's hard to say where anybody's ideas come from. The mind is a mystery -- things just sort of pop out sometimes. Don't you have this experience? For me, writing fiction is almost like dreaming -- I imagine some people, then I just start writing to see who they are and what they will do. (See my answer to Lisa, above.) "In Country" is not based on any real experience of mine, except for one piece: At the end of the novel, Sam finds her own name on the Wall. I once found my name (or nearly my name) on the Wall: Bobby O. Mason.
To Shay, about "Graveyard Day" Your question is related to the ones from Lisa and Andrea. Take a look at my answers to them. I don't really remember what led me to write about the characters or situations in "Graveyard Day." I remember meeting someone who had a collection of walking sticks, including one that had been owned by Jefferson Davis. But I'm not sure what prompted the whole story. It may have been as simple as hearing that someone was going out to clean up a family grave site, and this got my curiosity going, so I imagined people getting ready to do the same thing.
To Amanda, about "Graveyard Day": I don't really know what happens to the characters in any story after the story ends. I didn't write any further, so the future is unknown. I guess in this case, it's up to you to decide what you think is most likely. Are Waldeen and Joe really in love? Will Waldeen straighten out her thoughts and feelings about Joe? What clues can you find in the story about these things? (Also, see my answer to Keely about endings.)
To Leigh: Yes, I've been to Kentucky Lake many times. My parents used to take my sister and me there for picnics when we were growing up. (See my answer to Amy about western Kentucky, and my answer to Amanda about Paducah.) Nowadays when I drive to Mayfield to visit my mother, I go past both Lake Barkley and Kentucky Lake on my way.
To Stacey, about "Graveyard Day": See my answer to Keely about endings. I know it may seem unfair for me to not just tell you what the ending of a story means, but I truly think it is best for you to reach your own conclusions. One way to think about the end of "Graveyard Day" is to ask yourself why Holly says what she does, and whether you think she is right.
To Renette, about "Graveyard Day": Your question is related to Amanda's, so take a look at my answer to her. But also, remember what is on Waldeen's mind. She has had a bad marriage. This has to make her hesitate before taking the plunge again. And she is bothered a little about the fact that Joe McClain has the same first name as her former husband -- it makes her feel like she might be repeating the old mistake if she marries a second guy named Joe. This isn't logical, but it is how people think sometimes. Of course, she may not let these worries stand in her way ultimately. What do you think?