Real Life and the Short Story
There’s a great moment in the movie The Darjeeling Limited where the character played by Jason Schwartzman finally admits to his brothers, after a whole movie spent denying it, that his fiction is autobiographical. It’s a great moment, but it’s also a little uncomfortable, at least for this fiction writer.
It’s uncomfortable because people (especially family and friends) ask me, too, if those stories I’ve made up aren’t really, secretly, deep down, actually true—and I do spend a lot of my time denying it. I mean, I write these stories not to pass on the facts of my life but to hopefully find some larger insights that might have some value and meaning beyond me. Even when I do get inspired by real life, I have to change a lot of facts to get effectively at those bigger things. And then there are the stories that have no factual connection to my life, stories where the characters are unlike anyone I know and where the things that happen to those characters haven’t ever happened to me or anyone I know. So, I stick to my answer: the stories are fiction.
And yet, like that writer character in The Darjeeling Limited, I might be protesting too much. Because there’s one way in which the stories are really and completely about me: they tell the world what it is I care about. When I write about people navigating the complexities of their relationships, it shows you how much those relationships preoccupy me. When I write about people trying to understand one another, you can get a sense of how much that effort matters to me.
My books also lay bare the way that my preoccupations change over time. My first collection of stories, Between Camelots, was about people trying to form relationships, trying to make them work. Since that time I’ve gotten married and had a child, and my current collection, Into the Wilderness, is all about the power and complexities of parenthood. The stories look at parenthood from all kinds of angles—parents of newborns, of schoolchildren, of adult children; married parents, single parents, same-sex parents, people trying to get pregnant—and, although these characters aren’t me, they help me explore things I need to explore.
In the end, I think it’s right to stick to my answer: these stories are fiction. They’re not autobiographical. No—in fact, the truth is that these stories are something much more important: they’re personal.
Into the Wilderness(Synopsis)
Fiction, 204 pages
Washington Writers’ Publishing House
Releases: October 2012
“For the very real people in David Ebenbach’s vivid and emotional stories,” says author Jesse Lee Kercheval, “becoming a parent—as Judith, the single mother in four of the stories, says— is going ‘into the wilderness.’” The collection Into the Wilderness explores the theme of parenthood from many angles: an eager-to-connect divorced father takes his kids to a Jewishthemed baseball game; a lesbian couple tries to decide whether their toddler son needs a man in his life; one young couple debates the idea of parenthood while another struggles with infertility; a reserved father uses an all-you-can-eat buffet to comfort his heartbroken son. But the backbone of the collection is Judith, who we follow through her challenging first weeks of motherhood, culminating in an intense and redemptive baby-naming ceremony. Says author Joan Leegant, “Ebenbach takes us deep into the heart of the messy confusion and terror and unfathomable love that make up that shaky state we call parenthood. These stories are fearless, honest and true.”
David Ebenbach was born and raised in the great city of
Philadelphia, home of America’s first library, first art museum, first public school, and first zoo, along with his very first stories and poems – though those early efforts went on to become (deservedly) less famous than, for example, the zoo.
Since then David has lived in Ohio, Wisconsin, Philadelphia
again, New York, New Jersey, Indiana, and Ohio again, picking up some education (formal and otherwise) and more than a few stories along the way. He has a PhD in Psychology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an MFA in Writing from the Vermont College of Fine Arts.
In addition to his short-story collection Into the Wilderness (October 2012, Washington Writers’ Publishing House), David is the author of another book of short stories entitled Between Camelots (October 2005, University of Pittsburgh Press), and a non-fiction guide to creativity called The Artist’s Torah (forthcoming, Cascade Books). His poetry has appeared in the Beloit Poetry Journal, Subtropics, and the Hayden's Ferry Review, among other places.
He has been awarded the Drue Heinz Literature Prize; fellowships to the MacDowell Colony, the Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the Vermont Studio Center; and an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. David currently teaches at Georgetown University and very happily lives in Washington, D.C. with his wife and son, both of whom are a marvel and an inspiration.