Jamie Quatro has already made a name for herself in literary circles with her highly praised 2013 collection of short stories, “I Want To Show You More.”
But as she inferred in a talk Monday night, she almost made her home community of Lookout Mountain an even more familiar name as well by making it the title of her debut book.
“I thought ‘Lookout Mountain’ – like ‘Cold Mountain,’ but not,” she said with a laugh, referring to the best-selling 1997 historical novel. “And that didn’t go.”
The author – whose book has been named one of National Public Radio’s 200-plus “Best Books of 2013” and one of the New York Times’ “100 Notable Books of 2013” – made the comments while speaking in Knoxville.
In what is listed at her website as the only formal literary-related appearance she is making in East Tennessee this winter and spring, she gave a reading as part of the University of Tennessee’s “Writers in the Library” series.
She read her short story, “Decomposition,” and then congenially answered about a half dozen questions – including about the book's title -- from the small group of mostly students who had gathered in the Lindsay Young Auditorium of the Hodges Library.
Although most aspiring writers assume getting a book published is the hard part, Mrs. Quatro made finding the right title sound like the most challenging aspect.
She had originally selected “Ladies and Gentlemen of the Pavement” after the short story about a fictitious Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon. All seemed well with the Grove Press publishing company about that title, she said, until she “googled” the name and a similar book title popped up.
“It had come out two years before and I said, ‘That’s no big deal, but I figured I better mention it to my editor,” Mrs. Quatro said. “She said, ‘Dear, dear, dear!’ So that started a long battle.”
“Demolition,” the name of another short story in the book, was suggested, but the publisher’s sales and marketing department – which Mrs. Quatro learned was more powerful than she realized – thought it sounded too negative.
It was about that time that using Lookout Mountain as a title was briefly discussed, she added. Eventually, however, the editor’s assistant began pulling lines and sentences out of the short stories, and the title, “I Want To Show You More,” was chosen.
“That is the one that everybody could agree on,” Mrs. Quatro told the audience. “Now I am so happy with this title. It makes you want to see more.”
The short stories – which were previously published in a slightly different form in literary journals – seem to have readers calling for more, based on the fact the collection was recently released in paperback.
She has definitely received as much critical national acclaim as any locally based fiction writer in a while, or perhaps ever.
Her stories focus on the conflicting emotions of life – from faith in God and church, to unfaithfulness in relationships – and seem to have a high-strung edge to them. And while they are sometimes about church, they are not necessarily for church, due to their somewhat suggestive topics in places.
Many of the stories also seem to have a bit of surrealism. However, within the fantasy tales, very real scenes of life with which anybody can identify are found.
Another point about the book is that someone looking for scandalous stories of familiar people on Lookout Mountain or Chattanooga will likely not find them. The discussions of infidelity and other indiscretions are done in a seemingly vague way without even fictitious names or too much detail. In fact, due to the everyday emotions brought out, readers might find more of themselves instead of other people.
Mrs. Quatro, however, does have a disclaimer on the copyright page of the book, calling it a work of fiction. “Although Lookout Mountain exists, the names, characters, and incidents in the work are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously,” the book says.
The writer and her husband, Dr. Scott Quatro, to whom she dedicates the book, settled on Lookout Mountain after he began teaching business management courses at Covenant College in 2006. They had both earned degrees from William and Mary.
The couple and their four children live on the Georgia side of Lookout Mountain, just feet from the Tennessee line. As a result, one audience member at the Monday night gathering wondered if the duality of living along two states was tied in with the often-dueling emotional pulls in the book.
Her answer was that the stories kind of unconsciously evolved that way.
“When you have a split setting like that, a topographical setting, it lends itself to thematic splits,” she said. “I do think that kind of organically came out working in that setting.”
The book itself also kind of developed naturally, she said in response to another question regarding whether she originally had a novel or collection of short stories in mind.
“Originally I didn’t know what I was doing,” she said. “I was just writing while I was getting my MFA (master of fine arts degree). I kind of got obsessed with the subject matter, but I wasn’t thinking at all in terms of do we have a book.
“I didn’t have an agent and I had not published my stories (other than in literary journals). It wasn’t until I signed with my agent that we started looking at the bulk of what I’ve done and she said, ‘You really have a series here that is linked.’ ”
Mrs. Quatro added that a lot of editing was involved to put them into the current collection of 16 stories.
“Decomposition” makes reference to a dead body, and Mrs. Quatro joked to the group about wanting to visit the “body farm” in Knoxville, the secure and renowned research facility near UT Medical Center where decaying cadavers are studied.
“I just thought I’d come here and go to the body farm and say, ‘Hey, I’m here,’ ” she said. “But I realized you have to know someone.”
After her roughly 45-minute presentation, Mrs. Quatro autographed copies of the paperback version of her book, taking the time to talk individually with each person for several moments.