Susan Smith Daniels won the Fairfield (Connecticut) University MFA Book Prize for her debut short story collection, “The Genuine Stories.” The author, who lives in Fairfield, Iowa, was eligible for the award because she is a graduate of Fairfield University’s low-residency graduate program in creative writing.
“Anybody who’s been in their MFA program can submit,” she said. “I submitted ‘The Genuine Stories’ twice. I was shortlisted the first time and then I won the second time in 2017.”
The stories feature Genuine Eriksson, a woman with the power to heal others. Daniels conceived of the character following a bike ride similar to the one which opens “Possum Days,” the first story in the collection.
“It started with a bike ride and a dead possum in the road,” Daniels said. “My husband’s a cyclist and we were out here (in California) and it was a fall day. He always has me ride in front him saying, ‘Be careful. Watch out.’ And then we had this dead possum and we had to swing around it ... I just came home from that bike ride and started writing about the road and the possum, and she just came to me. It was very serendipitous.”
Throughout the collection, Genuine and those around her struggle to come to grips with her healing abilities. The stories investigate some morally gray areas about the nature of power and the responsibilities of those who have it.
“I think that we have this idea that if you have something good, a power that’s good, you have to be good. And power is ubiquitous in the world. I’m interested in interpersonal relationships and who has the power and who has the influence. So mostly it was a mediation on power and how we use it,” Daniels said. “Some people are beautiful, and that’s a power. Some people are rich, and that’s a power ... I was just thinking what if you had this power and you didn’t like how you were used in a spiritual or religious context in the service of that power? What are the problems if you just charge money for it and it works? So Genuine wrestles with that, and I think if it were a novel there would be more of that wrestling and it would be more clear. But this is the kind of reader I am and the way I like to read — I like to fill in the gaps myself and so I’m hoping my readers like that, too.”
Genuine doesn’t fully understand how or why her power works — and that’s by design.
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“The rule I work with is that there really aren’t rules ... The world is an interesting place, you know? People have money, power, beauty, whatever, for whatever reason. We don’t always understand the reason.”
Currently, Daniels is a Ph.D. student in the Bath Spa University low-residency program and is at work on a novel that also will serve as the main portion of her dissertation. Working on a novel/dissertation. Tentatively titled “I Remember, I Forget,” the novel touches on various themes — place, memory, what Daniels calls “genetic ID,” and how you live with something you can’t explain and for which no resolution is available.
Working on the novel hasn’t banished Genuine from Daniels’ thoughts.
“I think I’ve probably not said enough about Genuine. So once I get done with the novel that I’m writing, maybe I’ll get back to her, because I think there’s a lot more to mine there ... I love Genuine. I think about her all the time. I think of all these situations I can put her in and see how see acts. I could go back and fill in back stories and have the early years, and I can go forward.”
Indeed, she sets up this possible return in the epigraph to the collection with some text she attributes to her protagonist:
“In my life, I have been called many things. On the one side: a charlatan, a trickster, a witch. On the other: a healer, a goddess, a saint. I have lived such a long time, so who knows? Perhaps they are all true,” she writes in “From There is No Such Thing as Magic: A Memoir” by G.T. Eriksson.
“I give her a life out there later, so I can go back and revisit,” she said.