Questions for Marcus Pactor, 14 Hills 16.1 Contributor

A young man overhears his neighbors’ violent relationship, calls the police, and then goes fishing with the policeman who comes to investigate. Sound intriguing? We thought so, which is why we included Marcus Pactor’s short story, Let Me, in issue 16.1 of Fourteen Hills: The SFSU Review.

Mr. Pactor, a Writing Instructor at the University of North Florida, flew all the way out to San Francisco to read at our release party in December. We were so intrigued by his work, and also impressed by his reading, and so we decided to feature him here on the Fourteen Hills blog.

14H: We published your story, Let Me, in our volume 16.1, because we felt it raised some interesting questions. We are curious about what inspired the story, and what it is about your characters that make them work so well.

MP: I think I hinted at the inspiration (if that's the right word) at the reading. I've lived in some places with thin walls. Twice, I've lived next to some seriously dysfunctional types. I guess I have a hero complex, or maybe I'm just stupid, but I've made it my business to try to help these abused girls. Those attempts never worked out well. One of them was so grateful to me that she nailed me with a phone to the back of my skull. So I imagined a guy who decided not to help, and everything ran from there

14H: We couldn't help but notice that although the policeman (Timmons) and the neighbor (Sarah) are named, the protagonist himself goes unnamed. Was that a conscious choice? If so, why?

MP: The narrator's namelessness just kind of happened as I was writing. He never seemed to need one, so...

14H: Your story explores themes of loneliness, as well as the paradox of needing and offering help. At one point, the main character distills the main idea to: "“We don’t help when we need to, and we do help when none is necessary. And we can’t possibly help ourselves.” When writing this story, did you start with this idea in mind, and then construct the characters around it, or did the story come first?

MP: I came across the idea as I was writing. I start with people, and as they find their way through the maze, they usually lead me to some idea or other. I know some writers come up with an idea and shape a story around it, but I'm always afraid that if I tried it, I'd end up with some Ayn Rand cut-out characters, 100-page speeches, and a lot of lousy moralizing.

14H: You live in Florida. Perhaps coincidentally, one of the story's main scenes takes place at the beach. How important is the setting throughout?

MP: Setting's always important to me. A story with a good setting suggests knowledge of particular places and particular worlds. When a reader trusts a setting, he can begin to trust the story. Particularity, specificity--these are friends to a writer.

14H: What is your writing routine?

MP: I teach four classes and I cook on weekends, so I write whenever I can, an hour here, twenty minutes there. Some days I get a magical three-hour block. But I can't wait for them.

14H: How did you first hear about Fourteen Hills?

MP: My ex-girlfriend was very good at finding places for me to send me work. I guess this was one last nice thing she did before we said good-bye

14H: How has your career as a writing instructor influenced or affected
your writing? Or, has it at all?

MP: Teaching is like detective work. When I read a student's story, and things go awry, they always go awry in a unique way. I have to read again and search for clues in order to solve the mystery and, later, offer some advice. It's made me a much colder reader and editor of my work.

14H: Sound advice. Thank you again for contributing to Fourteen Hills, and for reading your work at our party!

Marcus Pactor is a writing instructor at the University of North Florida. His work has also appeared in Peeks and Valleys.

- Julia Jackson, Fourteen Hills staff

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