David McGlynn: Writer in Context

Naveed Islam

When Professor David McGlynn began work on the project that would eventually become his collection of short stories, “The End of the Straight and Narrow,” it was the year 2000 and he was still earning his M.F.A at the University of Utah. “It took what is seemingly eight years, but in some ways that’s not a fair number,” said McGlynn. “I was still trying to figure out what the heck I was doing. I was going through this long dark period of not knowing how to do this at all and simply having to grope my way there.”
In the eight years it took for his work to come to fruition, the recently published author grew as both a writer and as a human being. “I also got married and had my two sons,” he added.
McGlynn first got into writing as a student. He enrolled at UC-Irvine as an English major, but wished to explore his options before settling on a career choice. He quickly found that what he enjoyed reading the most was contemporary literature and was drawn to the idea of creating works of his own.
“I just like stories. I like telling stories and I like hearing stories,” the author said. “Stories are how we talk to each other. It’s how we become who we are. It’s how we learn to be who we are. It’s how we learn to know what’s right and what’s wrong. It’s how we learn to interact and to love each other.”
Many of the author’s own life stories find their way into his collection of fiction, though not in the autobiographical sense. “Each story begins with a particular moment,” McGlynn said as he recalls a few instances from his own life from which he drew inspiration when crafting his stories. An outing with old friends leads to the golf scene found in his story “Landslide,” and a real life tragedy forms the basis of another piece in the collection, “Seventeen One-Hundredths of a Second.”
The writing process could only commence once the author had learned enough about the subjects he was going to tackle in his work. Each of his stories demands extensive research and soon the aspiring writer found himself calling up old friends and tracking down the acquaintances of acquaintances for information.
“I was trying to figure out just how I was going to represent this,” said McGlynn about this experience. “There were fires that affected the neighborhood near where my parents lived in the early 90s,” recalled the author, “so I researched the fires and listened to my parents tell stories about the fire.”
Other characters needed further investigation before their emotions could be translated into words. A character in the five interlocking stories that close the collection is blinded. “I went up to the Eye Center in Utah and talked to the physicians and social workers,” he said. “I went to the Utah Services for the Blind and I looked at their library of video cassettes and tapes. I wanted to see what those things look like. I even talked to one of the instructors at the service into teaching me how to walk with a blind person’s cane. I walked blindfolded so I could learn.”
Though most of his short stories have distinct narratives and different characters, there is a powerful underlying theme connecting these pieces: religion. The author has long been drawn to fiction that thinks deeply about spiritual life and the frictions of trying to live within a spiritual community.
“There’s a possibility for a moment of transcendence,” said McGlynn. “People who find meaning when they look to the sky, when they look to prayer, when they look to church — these are things that can be vastly meaningful in people’s lives and at the same time can be at odds with the rest of their lives.”
Professor McGlynn realizes that this is uncharted territory in American literature since past writers who deal with such subjects like religion and frictions with God do so in a specific context. “I feel like I can tell a kind of story that isn’t being told right now or isn’t being told by a lot of people right now,” the author said, “which is to investigate this aspect of American life through stories that seem to have such a hold on people’s assumptions and prejudices, but to do so in a way that’s more complex.”
Oct. 15, 2008, Professor McGlynn delivered a reading of his book, “The End of the Straight and Narrow,” in Main Hall at 4:30 p.m. He chose the story “Landslide” to read at the event, which was attended by many Lawrence students and faculty. The book is currently available at Conkey’s, Barnes & Nobles and other stores. He is currently working on a non-fiction book. “It’s a big tangled mess. To try to do anything else would kill me.