Susan:  James, it has been said that we bring the sum total of who we are and what we know to every story we read. Today we discuss your story “Sand.”  I know sand intimately.  So I was immediately drawn by the title into this story of two brothers.  Is this memoir or straight fiction or a combination?  Is there a Cain and Abel sub-text going on, perhaps unconsciously?  Not an entirely off the wall question (!) since you did use an epigraph from Leviticus 17:11: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood…”

James:  No, a Cain and Abel question is not off the wall.  The short answer is “No.”  In answering that question, I’ll answer both.  The story is fiction, but based on my relationship with my brother, Charles.  We grew up in a house right on the beach, on the southern-most shore of the Chesapeake Bay in Ocean View, which is in Norfolk, VA.  It was a paradise for us.

My brother was much as the brother described in “Sand,” a kind of savant, with an incredible artistic gift.  He won a scholarship to study architecture after winning a competition for design of a commercial building.  He got in trouble and lost it, but continued with his art, filling notebooks with breathtaking sketches.  He was also homeless for much of his life, a fact he hid from the family for many years.  Even when they knew it, he continued the charade with stories of jobs as a cartographer for oil companies in Louisiana and California.

When he was killed in LA, I was director of a homeless shelter in Texas and had been trying for some time to get him into a program I personally believed would help him.  I loved my brother, so the Cain and Abel thing doesn’t really apply … having said that, I was probably jealous, because Charles was greatly loved by the family, while I was estranged from them for many years.  In some ways, we shared the same dilemma, similar perspectives and passions, but Charles was lovable, friendly.  The detectives who spoke to my parents said that he was well known on the streets.  Everybody liked Charlie.

I could adapt, though.  He could not.

Susan:  This account of your brother, family, and your upbringing is fascinating.  The true story would make an intensely dramatic tale.  It also brought to mind Steinbeck’s East of Eden.  Thanks for being so candid.  It’s always interesting to discover any  “truth” hovering within a story.  Some writers give all their truths to the page while others give none.  For the most part, I hide.  Your opening line is a stunner:  “As children, we lived in a house on the beach, surrounded by sand, our skin touched by sand, moments of our lives filtered through sensations of sand.”

I adore that line.  Do you believe the sand also found its way into the souls (hearts, if you prefer) of these two brothers?

James:  The place where we lived, at that time, was less congested than today, almost like the Outer Banks of North Carolina, in that … the beach, the sea was flat, the sky enormous.  Yes, the sand was everywhere.  The beach was our front yard.  The back of the house faced inland, but even there, not far away across the few streets, were forested creeks and backwaters, a salt marsh where, the history books told us, pirates lived and hid their ships in the deeper inlets.  A magical place.

We had a view of the Chesapeake to the north, the Atlantic Ocean on the eastern horizon, and the shipping channel moved east to west, parallel to our beach, a deep channel where freighters moved slowly in and slowly out from the Tidewater to distant places we could only dream of, places with magical names you could read in the shipping news of the Norfolk paper.

The sky, though, was enormous, so big it could swallow your ego, teach you a kind of humility you never forget.  Yes, it’s still there, the sand.

Susan:  Yes, it’s still there, the sand.  (Beautiful).

The narrator tells us that he is darkness and his brother is the light.  The brother builds magnificent sand cathedrals that startle the tourists, while the narrator digs holes in the sand that the tourists fall into.  What of this?

James:  In terms of the story, one becomes the artist and the other an ironworker.  One becomes open to beauty, one seeks solace in the firm realities of steel.  One is drawn to cathedrals, one builds skyscrapers out of iron beams.  One is open, the other quite closed.

In the end, it is the realist who survives, but at what cost?

Susan:  The light and the darkness.  Intermingled.  These complexities in “Sand” tugged me in different directions.  I love that things important to the narrator remain blurred for him.  I believe this part turned the story:  “Yet, I loved him, my brother, for all our differences.  I understood him as no one else.”

A shocker!  Here I was visualizing a seaside painting by William Merritt Chase, and you threw me a Picasso.  These two lines sort of fractured the story down its middle, laying the ground work for what comes next.

Read “Sand” by James Lloyd Davis

Monday Chat is a bi-weekly series in which Susan Tepper has a conversation with a Fictionaut writer about one of his or her stories. Susan is Assistant Editor of Istanbul Literary Review and hosts FIZZ, a reading series at KGB Bar.

  1. Bill Yarrow

    Great interview, Susan. Loved reading the autobiographical background to “Sand,” James. I was riveted.

  2. Robert Vaughan

    Really wonderful interview, Susan and James! Such honesty and depth, the back story (informed) about “Sand,” which is such a fantastic story itself. I was very fascinated, still am.

  3. Cherise Wolas

    Terrific interview, Susan and James. James, thank you for sharing the underpinnings of SAND, with such honesty and care. Truly fascinating.

  4. Sheldon Lee Compton

    This is the good stuff interview. Thanks to Susan and wonderful hearing from James on a fine, fine story.

  5. meg pokrass

    wonderful interview. I love the man. I love the man’s writing and this story is very special. Hooray!

  6. Sam Rasnake

    Enjoyed this interview, Susan. Have always appreciated James’ writing. I like his comments here.

  7. Foster Trecost

    I really enjoyed this, Susan and James. Wonderful insight, so honest. Thanks!

  8. Jack Swenson

    James is one the best, and you are, too, Susan. You two keep me scrambling to do MY best. Thanks for what you do.

  9. stephen hastings-king

    fascinating. thanks much for being so open and allowing us in.

  10. Joani Reese

    What a wonderfully refreshing interview. The back story is as interesting as the piece itself. James, I first read your work with “The Storefront Poet,” which sold me for good. I always look forward to seeing a new piece of yours at Fictionaut. Enjoyed reading this.

  11. susan tepper

    Loved doing this chat with Jim Davis. Thanks to everyone who has read and commented so far!

  12. Kathy Fish

    “Sand” is a deep and brilliant story by a great writer. Thanks so much for this interview, Susan and James.

  13. James Lloyd Davis

    Thank you, Susan, for your appreciation and the insightful perceptions of my story … and for producing this interview and asking the kind of questions I did not expect. And my heartfelt thanks to everyone who’s commented so far. You’ve made my day, my week.

  14. Julie Innis

    Yes to all of the above. Thank you for sharing your insights with us, JLD.

  15. Marcus Speh

    absolute must-read interview about a wonderful story. i already liked james but finding out about charles in james’ simple and candid words makes me love him and his work with the strength of two brothers. thank you both for sharing.

  16. estelle bruno

    Wonderful interview with a wonderful writer. Great.
    Kudos to you both

  17. J. Mykell Collinz

    Great interview. Thanks, Susan and James. I enjoyed reading.

  18. Gloria Mindock

    This was a really wonderful chat. Very interesting to hear how “Sand” came about and about the more personal things.
    You both were insightful.
    Thanks for the great read!

  19. James Lloyd Davis

    Julie, Marcus, Estelle, J. Thank you.

  20. Sara Lippmann

    What a moving interview, Susan and James. Thank you for bringing Sand to my attention, which unfortunately I’d missed initially – it’s a wonderful piece.

  21. Tina Barry

    James Lloyd Davis is as generous a reader as he is a sensitive, original writer. Thanks for the intimate interview Susan and James.

  22. fran metzman

    Susan Incredible interview! Questions so pointed and daring. they pulled the best and responses from an articulate author terrific. Made me want to read the book. fran

  23. susan tepper

    James, it made Fran Metzman want to read “the book.” I think she’s saying she sees a book in this. I certainly do. I think you have a large scale saga that could come out of this story. Go for it!

  24. Judith Lawrence

    Brilliant interview from both sides. I went to read “Sand” and agree with Susan and Fran, there is a book in these characters that longs to be told.

  25. James Lloyd Davis

    One should never argue with a consensus. Fran, Susan, Judith, thank you for your confidence. I’ll give it some thought, just as soon as I’m finished the two novels I’m working on now.

  26. Jane Hammons

    Wonderful story of the story.

  27. Phoebe Wilcox

    Interesting interview that really makes me want to read the story! And, as an aside, most kids dream about finding buried pirates’ treasure but he really could have, that probably adds an extra little kick to the story too.

  28. susan tepper

    Jim Davis, just wanted to write a “parting Note” here to say what a pleasure it was chatting with you.
    And to the people who may not know– SAND is also featured in the winter issue of Istanbul Literary Review

  29. Meg Tuite

    Loved this interview, James and Susan! I love your work that I’ve read, James, and look forward to reading more! Thanks!

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