A Look Back at “The Dependents:” Michael Noll’s Q&A

 

Michael Noll is the author of the short story “The Dependents,” which was featured as a New Territory Free Story of the Month and appeared in The New Territory Issue 02, “In Defense,” which you can order here.

Noll is Program Director at the Writers League of Texas, editor of “Read to Write Stories” blog and author of The Writer’s Field Guide to the Craft of Fiction. He joined us for our first Facebook Live Q&A to talk about how growing up in Kansas and living in Texas inspired his story, general troubles Midwesterners face, how relations between white and Hispanic characters creates tension in his story, the craft of writing fictional short stories, and a reading list of more Midwestern writers. Here, we’ve summarized his main points:

  • 2:05 – Noll introduces the idea of the story, “The Dependents.” 
  • 3:06 – Noll reads an excerpt from his short story.
  • 7:15 – Why Noll read the excerpt he did and the topical relevance of the text in today’s political society.
  • 9:00 – Growing up in Hiawatha, Kansas, and how that inspired “The Dependents.”
  • 13:00 – The challenges of writing “The Dependents.” How characters were developed past their “flat types,’ such as the “well-meaning white woman” and the “beleaguered immigrant,” into full, rounded characters. 
  • 15:30 – How and why he made the revisions to the story that he did. 
  • 18:40 -The troubles Midwesterners face and how that is incorporated into “The Dependents.” 
  • 20:30 – The many versions and rewrites of “The Dependents.” 
  • 22:30 – How fiction plays a role in politics and storytelling and how he used that to create the world and the story of “The Dependents.” 
  • 24:00 – Why the story is told from Nancy’s perspective, and how she becomes more than the “well meaning white woman,” and why he didn’t feel comfortable telling the story from a person of colors perspective. 
  • 26:45 – Bleakness versus realism and the reality of bleakness in the Midwest.
  • 29:50 – The use of Spanish words in “The Dependents,” and why he italicized them to place emphasis on their usage. 
  • 31:30 – Nancy, the main character, has several narcissistic traits, which is important for the story’s overall arc and why it makes sense for her character. 
  • 32:20 – Writing from a female perspective is something that Noll has done often and believes that he does well. He did a lot of research before writing “The Dependents” which contributed to the story. 
  • 35:20 – Most of Noll’s writings center around small towns in the Midwest.
  • 36:50 – Characterization in this story is extremely important, as “The Dependents” is more of a character driven than plot driven story. 
  • 38:50 – The role of white saviors in the United States is something that Noll wanted to explore with “The Dependents.” The main character tries to be that “white savior” character and it is up to the reader to determine what that means for Nancy and for the story.
  • 40:20 – “The Dependents” will not lose relevance for a long time, because of the massive issues that we are having with immigration. However, Noll hopes that the story will lose relevance in the sense that the United States figures out their immigration situation. 
  • 41:20 – Nancy gives the Hispanic family a pot of spaghetti at the end of story which has a specific relevance and importance to the overall arc of “The Dependents.” “Sometimes the giving is about the giver,” according to Noll.
  • 43:00 – Noll’s recommended three books for those who enjoy reading about the Midwest. “The Whole World at Once” by Erin Pringle, “Tropic of Kansas” by Christopher Brown, and “This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an American Family Farm” by Ted Genoways.   

Order Issue 02 here. Or make sure you never miss another issue of the New Territory with a subscription!

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