A CRAFT CHAT WITH CECILE CALLAN, author of “Home Away From Home”

A CRAFT CHAT WITH CECILE CALLAN, author of “Home Away From Home”

Estimated reading time: 9 minutes

In her short story “Home Away From Home” (Issue 43), Cecile Callan takes readers into a smoky bar in the city, where richly-drawn characters are thrown together and forced to face themselves. Callan shares insights about writing the story with senior fiction editor Andrea Caswell.

Andrea Caswell: Tell us about the story’s title. Is there really a cocktail called “Home Away From Home,” or is it an original recipe of yours?

Cecile Callan: The title came to me because, it seems to me, the relief we seek at a bar is partly an impulse to make stress and worry fall away as we sip a drink. It takes only a moment for our shoulders to drop as we begin to feel just a bit more relaxed than when we walked in, not unlike kicking off our shoes when we first arrive home. This title fit well as the name of her drink and of the story. If there isn’t a cocktail called “Home Away From Home,” there should be!

Andrea: It can be inspiring to hear the “origin story” of a short story. Where did this one begin for you? Was it in response to a prompt, or had you been working with these characters for some time, or…? Thanks for sharing insights about the path this story took.

Cecile: It started as a journal entry, after an experience I had in New York. My husband and I were in the city to see a show and stayed at the Hotel Edison. They have a cozy wood-paneled cocktail bar, The Rum House, that’s been there forever, with live music, star-struck tourists, and often casts from Broadway shows who come in after curtain to unwind before they go home. My husband had gone upstairs to bed while I decided a nightcap was in order and went to the bar by myself. A businessman did mosey up beside me and was perhaps checking out my availability when I mentioned how my husband and I loved the place. Immediately his behavior changed and I was of no more interest to him. 

I found details of this encounter—the loud sensuous music, the crowded room, the bubbly group of beautiful young women—in my journal several years after it happened. I started thinking about it from the POV of the main character in the novel I’m working on, a middle-aged woman recently left by her husband who is only beginning to come to terms with the long-buried, unresolved emotional tangles that have kept her stuck. I was interested in how a newly-single woman might feel bombarded, not only by the sensual world but by her own unexplored, less-than-pretty truths.

Andrea: So you’re telling me there’s hope for several decades’ worth of detailed journal entries finding their way into my fiction?

Cecile: Yes.

Andrea: Oh good, I needed to hear that! In all seriousness, you use physicality so well throughout the story. You’ve placed these characters in a confined space and set their bodies in motion—every move they make feels charged. Can you share with us how movement guided their actions here?

Cecile: When you confine anything, like in this bar where the space is tight and packed, you take away the ease of one thing and compensate with something else. In this case, the characters are physically pushed together, and that small space defines the parameters within which they must interact. If she’d ignored him, it would have been uncomfortable, so she ‘gave’ him what she felt he was looking for, effectively entering into a sort of dance. When he later uses that same space to wall her out, it makes her go inside of herself and get even smaller. All the while the cocktail bar, the musicians, the tourists, and the performers keep rolling on in their bigger space beyond the one happening between these two at the bar. 

Andrea: “Home Away From Home” concludes with a question. Actually, with two of them. Sometimes it’s hard to know how or where to end a story. How did you decide this one needed to conclude at that moment, and in that way?

Cecile: When she turns inward after the male character unceremoniously walls her out, I felt she would only be able to self-flagellate then, because even though she actually gets what she wants—to be left alone—he does it with such brute clarity that it leaves her questioning her own worth. That questioning is what I believe brought her to the bar in the first place, so ending the story that way felt right because it had come full circle.

Join Cecile and other Issue 43 contributors at the Contributors’ Reading on Sunday, October 22.

Cecile Callan

Cecile Callan’s poetry and fiction appear in Quartz Literary, The Fish Anthology, and Louisiana Literature. The award-winning L.A. production of her controversial play about abortion, Angels Twice Descending, is in development as an indie feature. In a former life, she was an alien with four nostrils, a dumb bank robber, and a sexy geologist among other professions, including the oldest. Insomniacs know her from reruns. Cecile Callan holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and lives in the Hudson Valley where she is at work on a novel.

Read more from Cleaver Magazine’s Writing Tips

Cleaver Magazine