Conversation about Stubblefield with Stanley Wilson)
How did you decide to use a first-person narrator?
SW: As a clinical psychologist,
I'm used to listening to people tell their stories in first
person, so it seemed natural to have Bryan tell his to a friend
who happens to be psychiatrist. In addition to being straightforward,
first person narrative allows the reader to identify with Bryan's
adolescent insecurities, as well as his desperate need to love
and be loved. Objective third person would have been less restrictive,
but might have undermined my readers' willingness to suspend
disbelief. I hoped the more restrictive first person voice would
make it easier for readers to accept Bryan as a once-in-a-generation
chess genius and Jack Montrose as a cop capable of monstrous
Is Stubblefield Cemetery real? I felt like something terrible
was about to happen every time Bryan set foot in the place.
SW: Stubblefield really
is an abandoned and desecrated cemetery just outside Walla Walla,
Washington. I visited the place once, as a freshman attending
Whitman College. It was after midnight and what happened to
me is pretty much what happened to Bryan on his first visit.
One of my writing goals was to make Stubblefield another character
in the story, one that would have a profound psychological impact
on the story's flesh and blood characters. On his first visit,
Bryan gets in an altercation with drunken townies and comes
away with a promiscuous and unstable girlfriend. He reluctantly
returns a year later with his beloved Lydia and they end up
killing a man, dividing their teenage lives into "before it
happened" and "after it happened." When they return five years
later to do a healing ritual, Bryan takes a bullet in the gut.
More than a creepy backdrop against which the main characters
perform, Stubblefield is a place that turns lives upside down
in the most negative ways imaginable.
Maybe I'm just being na´ve, but it's hard for me to believe
there are cops as vile and villainous as Jack Montrose. Aren't
you afraid your critics will say his character is unbelievable?
SW: Let me preface my answer
by saying I have immense respect for police officers, who daily
put their lives on the line. But law enforcement, like any other
profession, will occasionally attract a full-fledged psychopath
to its rank and file. Montrose's character was actually inspired
by three police officers who threatened to kill me when I was
a sixties hippie living in Pasadena, California. I'd asked the
officers to loosen handcuffs they'd placed on a female friend
who was in pain and crying. Her offense: curfew violation for
being out past midnight under the age of eighteen (she was nineteen).
The police strong-armed me into a remote wooded area, two of
them twisting my arms behind my back. The third grabbed me by
the throat and seethed, "If you say one more word, I'm gonna
bash your fuckin' skull in!" His free hand wielded an enormous
metal flashlight and the look in his eyes told me he was capable
of carrying out his threat. Life has convinced me the first
epigraph to Stubblefield is true: "On the human chessboard,
all moves are possible."
Bryan tells his story through a flashback that lasts almost
the length of the novel. Why did you use this particular construction?
is a frame story, opening with a scene at a rural mailbox that
is taking place some time after the central action of the novel.
Bryan merely removes a letter and his "heart balloons with fear;"
thus, a shocking past is implied in the present. Dr. Grove drives
by and convinces Bryan to tell his story and he soon does, recalling
the events that led to his ruin until the last few pages of
the novel, at which time the story returns to the time frame
of the opening scene. Long flashbacks are easy for readers to
follow, which I felt was important because those who critiqued
the first drafts of my manuscript considered the plot to be
both intricate and demanding. Also, I enjoy stories where the
narrator's voice at the beginning and the end of the book frames
a perspective that would not be possible for a younger, less
mature version of the self. John Knowles' A Separate Peace
and Tawni O'Dell's Back Roads come to mind.
Say something about the late sixties and early seventies
music you referred to throughout the novel. The compilation
would make a good CD.
SW: Thanks. Music is the
great mover of emotion and I wrote it in it to give the reader
more of a chance to become involved in the story. I deliberately
chose songs that would convey a sense of the times (a live band
plays "Satisfaction," "Shout" and "Louie, Louie" at a fraternity
keg party), as well as Bryan's perceptions of his moment-to-moment
experience (Vicky Spotts plays "I Put A Spell on You" on her
bedroom stereo). I also adopted a storyteller's device I've
never come across in the novels I've read - referencing certain
songs as a way of foreshadowing. Minutes before Bryan accidentally
"finds" his long lost Lydia in the slide show he hears the Neil
Young lyrics, "Round and round and round we spin, to weave a
wall that hems us in . . . It won't be long. It won't be long."
In the parking lot at Pioneer Park, Bryan hears Country Joe
and the Fish on a nearby car radio, singing the anti-Vietnam
"I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-To-Die" rag. He reflects on how the
war pushed Montrose over the edge, but the song also foreshadows
the gunshot he will soon take in the cemetery.
The Matthews-Primalov exhibition appears to have been based
on a real game. If so, where did it come from? Would you publish
the move order?
I get this question from almost every chess enthusiast who has
read Stubblefield. The game took place a few years ago between
yours truly and my Chessmaster computer program set at its highest
level of function. I'm no Bryan Matthews, but it was the first
time I defeated the computer so I decided to use the game in
the novel. Eric Schiller, the author of more than 80 books on
chess, analyzed the moves and provided the following commentary.
Matthews,B - Primalov,V [D00]
Walla Walla, Washington 1969
1.d4 d5 2.e3 White plans an attacking formation where
the dark-squared bishop will be locked out of the game for
a long time. Nevertheless, it can be deadly, if Black is not
careful. 2...Nf6 3.Bd3 e6 4.Nd2 Bd6 5.f4 The pawn advances,
so that when the knight emerges from g1 to f3, the pawn will
not be blocked. At the same time, the doorway to the residence
of the White king is thrown open. 5...c5 6.c3 c4 The
pawn follows its natural inclination and advances to attack
the enemy bishop. This is a poor strategy, because the queenside
becomes locked. White has ambitions on the other wing. 7.Bc2
0-0 8.Ngf3 Nc6 9.Ne5 The knight leaps into the outpost
at e5, protected by two sturdy pawns. This is the key idea
of the Stonewall Attack. 9...Qc7 No matter how much
pressure Black puts on the knight, it doesn't have to move.
The Stonewall is holding up just fine. 10.0-0 Bd7 Had
Black been prepared for the opening, then the classic defense
moving the knight from c6 to g6 via e7 would have been likely
11.Qf3 The queen heads to the kingside, planning to
attack from h3, or h5 if it can get there. 11...Be7 12.e4
The e-pawn moves forward in attack. Now the bishop at c1 can
wake up to a better view of the c1-h6 diagonal. The vision
of the bishop at c2 is only partially blocked, since the pawn
at e4 will get out of the way soon enough. 12...h6 13.Nxd7
Qxd7 14.e5 Now it is the pawn that makes use of e5. Black
is already in serious trouble, as a storm is brweing on the
kingside. 14...Ne8 15.b3 Played just to remind Black
that there is action on the queenside too. The move is hardly
necessary, but gives Black something else to think about as
precious minutes tick off the clock. 15...f6? Black is desperate
for counterplay, but sending the King's Guard into battle
is not the solution! [15...b5 was correct, to keep
White's mind trained on the queenside and away from the king!]
16.Qh5 fxe5 17.fxe5 Rxf1+ 18.Nxf1 cxb3 19.axb3 Rc8
Black sets up for a later attack on the pawn at c3, but White
can ignore this pathetic threat. 20.Bxh6! White offers his
bishop for a mere pawn, but Black dare not accept. 20...Nxd4
Black exploits the pin on the c-pawn. If White captures
the knight, then Black's rook will capture the bishop at c2.
[20...gxh6 is met by 21.Qg6+ Kf8 (21...Kh8 is
checkmated immediately by 22.Qh7#; 21...Ng7 22.Qh7+ Kf8
23.Bg6 with the deadly threat of Qh8#.) 22.Qxh6+ Ng7
23.Bg6 Bg5 Black offers a bishop to try to survive, but
White is not fooled. 24.Qh8+ Ke7 25.Qxg7+ Kd8 26.Bf7
will eventually win for White.] 21.Bg6 Now the bishop is away
from c2, so Black must do something about the knight which
is under attack at d4. 21...Nxb3 22.Bxg7 Bc5+ 23.Kh1 Qxg7
24.Rb1 Both of Black's knights are under attack, and only
one can be saved. Fortunately, Black has one to spare. 24...Rc7
25.Rxb3 Qf8 26.Rb1 Qf2? Black can't resist to infiltrate
the White camp and threaten checkmate at g1. He should have
repositioned the rook to take over the defense of the knight
at e8. [26...Re7 would have helped with defense and also freed
up the c7 square for use by the knight.] 27.Ng3 This
prevents ....Qg1# and threatens to move the rook to f1, driving
out the enemy queen. Meanwhile, the knight at e8 is attacked.
27...Nf6 At least this way Black will get a pawn for
the knight. 28.exf6 Qxf6 29.Rf1 Qg7 30.Qg5! A clever
and deadly "quiet move." Now there is now a threat
of Qd8+. 30...Re7 31.Nh5 Qh8 White checkmates in five
Stanley Wilson a question about Stubblefield