A Long Career in Short Fiction

From stories of lonely academics to tales of political intrigue, Professor of Humanities Robert Wexelblatt has been publishing short fiction for more than three decades. Lately his byline has appeared in literary journals with especial frequency: Nearly 50 of his short stories have been published since 2009.

Where do the ideas for so many plots and characters come from? Collegian asked Wexelblatt to share the origins of one of his recent stories, “Edith Fevrier,” the tale of a police detective beguiled and befriended by a precocious 11-year-old who has witnessed a Boston bank robbery. (Read the full story in the spring issue of Grey Sparrow Journal.)

“Decades ago a woman who had attended parochial schools in New Jersey told me an anecdote. She said she had a classmate who infuriated a nun by using all of the vocabulary words they were assigned weekly in a single sentence and that all of these one-sentence, stream-of-consciousness narratives had the same heroine. I recall that [the heroine’s] name was Myra. Anyway, the origin of stories is, for me, always mysterious. So I’m not sure where the whole of ‘Edith Fevrier’ came from, but that old anecdote, stored away in some non-biodegradable synapse, is certainly the origin of Paul Hanley’s lexical war with Sister Rose Emelda. The writing itself started with a clumsy crime and the image of an irresistible, precocious eyewitness, one who is the more irresistible because he loves his mother; then there was the point of view, the understated voice of a staple of crime fiction, the weary and lonesome detective. Finally, I had the wish to conclude with the hint of a happy ending, Paul’s triumph. Edith, pronounced ‘Ay-dit’? Paul is just the sort of boy who would have heard somewhere of Edith Piaf. Besides, the story was written for Grey Sparrow Journal, and Edith Piaf’s nickname was ‘the little sparrow.’”

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