So Stephen in ULYSSES and PORTRAIT (Joyce again) and I had similar experiences with our mothers. My mother was in hospice; and Stephen’s mother was on her deathbed; the story goes that Stephen (or Joyce) refused to kneel and pray for his mother and my mother read my short story SAVED! (published on this site). In both cases the women became very concerned for their son’s soul. Stephen’s mother was dying of cancer; my mother was dying of the same thing. Both thought their sons had condemned themselves to eternal hell. My mother worried that she wouldn’t see me in heaven. SAVED! “was only a story,” or so I reassured her. Unlike Stephen, I eased my mother’s mind in this way. The idea of my story…personal, a part of me since childhood, and almost everything in it…was accurate. (But I’m not sure my views will condemn me.) But how else could I have eased my mother’s mind but by saying what I did? Out of principal, Stephen didn’t try placate anyone. However my short story, once it took shape, became a work of fiction. Therefore, I don’t feel I misled my mother. The truth is less clear.
For me writing a story about salvation, no matter how I approached it, would always be more than an attempt to write fiction. The Southern Baptist tradition of an altar call was something I knew about and had experienced since as far back as I could remember. When I was caught up in it, that experience (as I’ve said) was a very emotional one; and I don’t seem to be able to write about anything unless I am very emotional about it. Emotion always drives me forward; it always has. I was a Christian boy; I grew up in the church. I have memories of my grandfather who was a Baptist preacher; before he died I begged him to give me his audio tapes of the Bible. He did. I let my mother groom me into becoming a preacher. It brought me attention. I drew crosses on hilltops for it. My story was my way of looking back and dealing with some of my emotions and why I rejected it all. This was what gave me authority to write about it.