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Keeping it Short: Eddie Stack on Quare Hawks

Writing.ie | Magazine | Interviews | Literary Fiction
quare_hawks by eddie stack

By Eddie Stack

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I grew up in a small pub in West Clare. A friend of my parents, Caitlin McNamara was married to Dylan Thomas, so I heard a lot of talk about him when I was growing up. A few old storytellers used drink in our pub and they used tell tales in Irish. Scéalta grinn they were called, funny stories. The first bit of writing I did was in Irish — I wrote a short poem when I was 10 or 11. Then I remember putting words to a tune and turning it into a song when I was in my early teens.

I read everything I could find about Dylan Thomas in college and I flirted with poetry for a while before trying my hand at short stories. It took me years to figure out how to craft a good story. And more years passed before I got one published. That was ‘For the Record’, and it was published in a ‘Criterion’, a UC Galway literary review that also included Seamus Heaney, John McGahern, Kathleen Raine and others. After that, a few doors began to open for me. A while later, my first collection of stories The West, was published by Bloomsbury.

A producer friend suggested that I issue a spoken word version of The West and I picked the four shortest stories and he recorded them. I’d worked with musicians Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill and they came on board and recorded background music. We called the project Stories from Ireland and they can be individually downloaded as mp3s from www.eddiestack.com

Stories begin for me with an idea or a feeling. Sometimes I’ll make some notes with pen and paper and transfer them to computer later. I have a folder with story ideas and I dip into that and write a draft.

eddie_stack 140x210I rarely ‘plot’ or outline a piece, preferring instead to the story to unfold by it self. Some stories come easy and I’ll get them down in a couple of drafts. Others are with me for years and go through a good many drafts and rewrites. Stories rarely let me give up on them and they haunt me until they see the light of day. When I came to the US I was able to get by writing features for Irish American publications and getting the occasional well paid piece in national publications and in-flight magazines. Nowadays I teach at UC Berkeley and that has made life easier. My second collection Out of the Blue was first published in the US and has stories that crisscross from Ireland to America as well as a few experimental works. By a lucky coincidence American novelist Willy Vlautin picked up Out of the Blue while he was in Ireland a few years ago and we’ve become good friends.

I wrote a novel called Heads in 2009 and published it for Kindle and iPad. It is a comic disaster set in the fringes of the Irish American scene in San Francisco. It’s the story of Jazz Doherty, an Irish artist and illegal immigrant, who blunders while painting the Stations of the Cross in a Catholic church. The parish priest declares a jihad on him and Jazz goes underground. Much as he tries to purify his karma with the priest, things just go from bad to worse. Heads has a cult following among Irish immigrants and Irish-Americans especially on the West Coast.

Seeing the success of Heads as an e-book, I decided to publish The Irish, a trilogy of novellas for Kindle and iPad. They are A Simple Twist of Fate, “No,” She Said; and The Poet, The Psychic and The Knave.  The Irish shows three facets of Ireland — the down at heel native ascendency in A Simple Twist of Fate; “No,” She Said. is the tale of a small town with squinting windows and a lady teacher who provides plenty of gossip with thirty years of crash and burn relationships. In The Poet, The Psychic and The Knave the worlds of three offbeat characters collide through poetry, tarot cards and credit cards. It’s a zany story and a good counterpoint to the other two.

Depending on my teaching schedule at Berkeley, every year I spend four to five months in Ireland. During the Celtic Tiger years I wrote several stories there. I didn’t consciously write about the boom or have a theme in mind, but I suppose I was tuning into what was happening around me. Several of the stories were published in literary journals and magazines and so I decided to put thirteen of them together as Quare Hawks. The collection was first published for Kindle and iPad and is now available in paperback.

The Quare Hawks are weird and unpredictable characters. Bobogue is a love starved lady poet, who falls for a married man. Malcolm is a cross-dresser who loves flowers and is afraid of cops. There’s loss of virginity and loss of life. There’s drinkers, scammers and crustys, and a psychotic genius who paints the town red once and a while. There’s a futuristic story about NAMA monetizing the arts. The stories are varied and range in length and themes. Some are in a traditional setting and others combine Irish magic realism with the everyday. They all have a sense of place and style in the best Irish writing tradition. The final story is about an American shrink who moves to Ireland and attends to the Irish and more.

“Quare Hawks is a collision between old and new Ireland. Both heartbreaking and hilarious, and hopeful and despairing. Eddie Stack has a way of making you laugh and cry at the same time. A brilliant collection from a great Irish storyteller.”

Willy Vlautin, author of Lean on Pete, Motel Life and Northline

And from Mel Ulm at The Reading Life:  “Eddie Stack is a great storyteller. His works, often set in the West of Ireland, are beautifully written and a great pleasure to read. Stack is one of Ireland’s most innovative contemporary authors. He has been reviewed with great favor by publications like The New York Times, The Observer and The San Francisco Chronicle. The people in his stories may just be “ordinary people” but there is nothing ordinary about the Irish and Stack does a wonderful job of proving this point. There are 13 excellent stories in Quare Hawks. I recommend it to anyone who likes a good story, especially one set in the West of Ireland. Stack’s stories are a delight to read, wonderfully written and have a strong insight into the human condition.”

Eddie Stack work is available from your local indie bookstore, www.eddiestack.com and www.amazon.com/author/eddiestack

(c) Eddie Stack

Eddie Stack is from County Clare and currently teaches at UC Berkeley, California. He has received several accolades for his fiction, including an American Small Press of the Year Award, and a Top 100 Irish American Award. Recognised as an outstanding short story writer, he is the author of three collections of short stories—The West, Out of the Blue and Quare Hawks; HEADS, a novel, and The Irish, a trilogy of novellas. His work has appeared in literary reviews and anthologies worldwide, including Fiction, Confrontation, Whispers & Shouts, Southwords and Criterion; State of the Art: Stories from New Irish Writers; Irish Christmas Stories, The Clare Anthology and Fiction in the Classroom.

Stephen Windwalker of Kindle Nation wrote this about Derramore, a story from The West:

“Let me just say this: I’ve read dozens of novels and stories that found some way to pay homage to James Joyce over the years, but frankly there have been few of them that convinced me the had any real claim on the reference. Not so with “Derramore.” Turbo Tracy’s forgeries may not involve the uncreated conscience of his race, but this story, more than any that I’ve read in decades, put me in touch again with the best of Dubliners and some of the vignettes of Portrait and Ulysses, so much so that, when I finished reading the story and found the blurbs from the Times Book Review and other journals, I actually felt they were understated. ”

A natural storyteller, Eddie has recorded spoken word versions of his work, with music by Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill. He is currently working on a version of his story Time Passes for iPad. A Christmas story set in Clare, it with include spoken word with music by Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, and artwork by Phillip Morrison.

The Doolin Book: Eddie is currently working on a book about the culture and traditional arts of Doolin, County Clare. Slated for publication in 2014, it includes interviews and profiles of tradition bearers, features on storytelling, dancing as well as music and songs from Doolin. Readers will have access to a website where they can listen to, and download, audio and video of the tradition bearers featured in the book.

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