Cooking lessons in Italy. A picnic at the Jefferson Memorial. A family vacation at a lakeside resort. These are just some of the ordinary events that author Marianne Herrmann turns into poignant epiphanies in her debut collection of short stories, “Signaling for Rescue,” published in 2007 by New Rivers Press. The seven stories in the collection touch on difficult subjects-miscarriage, death, sibling rivalry-with writing that is concise and intimate, encapsulating the drama of her characters’ lives with the emotionally charged, vivid details that are the hallmark of a talented short story writer.
Marianne Herrmann will read from Signaling for Rescue on Tues., Jan. 15, 7:30 p.m., as part of the Carol Connolly Reading Series at the University Club of St. Paul, 420 Summit Ave., St. Paul.
Herrmann always knew she wanted to write. A magazine internship helped define her fiction writing ambitions. “I quickly realized, ‘I think I’m a fiction writer,'” she said with a laugh. “I kinda wanted to make stuff up, and I could sense that wouldn’t fly at the magazine.”
Instead, Herrmann moved to Minnesota from Chicago, took classes at the Loft and received an M.A. from the University of Minnesota. Her writing career has earned her several fellowships and awards, including the New Rivers Press Many Voices Project Award from Minnesota State University, Moorhead, which launched the publication of “Signaling for Rescue.”
“The strongest writing I’ve read, as a whole, is in that form [the short story],” she explained. “It’s a more reliable medium. If you don’t have much time … and you have 20 minutes, a half hour and you pick up the New Yorker, you can very often be blown away.”
Writing that “blow-you-away” story can take considerably longer, however. “Signaling for Rescue” was written over several years, eventually coming together in what Herrmann described as an “organic process … when things happen as they should in writing, as you’re editing the piece, it just sort of comes together,” she mused. “You don’t really know where it comes from but it’s entirely fitting.”
Those organic story pieces are sometimes drawn from Herrmann’s own experience. For example, several stories are set in Italy, where she lived and studied for a year. The stories are full of lush landscapes and beautiful art, though the setting takes a back seat to the character’s inner conflicts.
“When I write, I think art is just so much a part of who I am, by osmosis it comes through. When you take people out of their comfort zone … The issues they’re dealing with become that much more transparent.”
Herrmann also finds what she called “kernels of a story” in disturbing events or ideas, hoping to make sense of them by giving them shape as a story. One such kernel was her mother’s loss of an infant to SIDS before Herrmann was born.
“I think I was always haunted by that,” she said. “It’s always been this presence that wasn’t really talked about very much because it caused my mom so much pain. So I was thinking, what would that be like? To suffer that?”
The resulting story, “Ducklings,” won her the Bush Artist Fellowship in Literature and is included in “Signaling for Rescue.”
Herrmann is currently teaching, volunteering andworking on a novel. As for many writers, the process of publishing her first book has been long and often difficult for Herrmann, but the hard work has paid off. “Signaling for Rescue” is a collection of stories that elicits the type of response Herrmann herself has when reading good fiction:
“I love that feeling of ‘oh my God,'” she said enthusiastically. “It just hits you and you connect with a story. You may not have experienced what the character experienced, but it helps you image exactly how it might be. And that’s not easy to do.”
With “Signaling for Rescue,” Herrmann makes it look almost effortless.