JASON DUFFY EATS YOUR FRIENDS (and I do love it stylized in all-caps — it looks so much more ridiculous that way) has been a passion project for me. On its surface, it’s the story of a fat, agoraphobic, naive but gentle man named Ray. But to me, this story has always been about what it is like the first time betrayal is born in you, and how that changes you. This is the seventh or eighth draft. Originally I saw this as Jason’s story and I tried to get inside his head, but I couldn’t get there, probably because he’s based on a real friend of mine. Eventually I shifted the story to the third person, which was even more detached and cruel. I was hurt, but I still didn’t hate “Jason.” So I switched it again — maybe it’s Jason’s girlfriend’s story. Maybe it’s his mom’s. Everything failed.
Fat Ray was the perfect narrator because I wound up loving him, which saved the story. Without Ray, there’s nothing but darkness. But his gentleness and kindness in spite of the face of betrayal and hurt was attractive to me. I actually decided to write from his point of view after doing a silly exercise where I “invented” the “least likely narrator.” I’d already tried everyone else who made sense; so it was time to get ridiculous. As a joke, I actually played with having it in Taylor Swift’s voice, but that became another project all its own, and I abandoned it. After listening to Harry Chapin’s A Better Place to Be (originally on Sniper and Other Love Songs) one night, I realized that a diner cook with no real musical aptitude would probably be a pretty unlikely candidate. Fat Ray winds up looking a little like the female character in that song, and I’m OK with that.
One of the most fun elements about this story for me, though, is that I was able to “win” an ongoing argument I have with anyone who will listen. I love to walk into a room full of music lovers and say, “Exile on Main St. or Sticky Fingers?” (The correct answer, by the way, is Sticky Fingers, and if someone disagrees, I recommend just covering your ears and saying “SWAYSWAYSWAYSWAYSWAYSWAY” over and over until they desist. Or, you know, have an actual debate. I think you can win it that way, too. Seriously, the guitar riff in “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’?” should be enough proof for any person.) By having Jason come to life and be his authentic self only when singing someone else’s words was essential, but to let those words be, “It’s just this demon life that’s got me in its sway,” well, all the better. And I “win.”
The Rolling Stones, “Sway” (originally on Sticky Fingers)
I always end up talking about the music in a piece, which is funny, because if this were someone else’s story, I’d argue that the music was the least important aspect. There are several parts of this story that I worried were disjointed or didn’t fit, and I think some of that stems from such an unlikely narrator. However, JASON DUFFY EATS YOUR FRIENDS went through a workshop, and the overwhelming response was that because Fat Ray was so out of his element, it was OK for the reader to feel out of their element — which made the music business a slightly more approachable setting. Of course, the most “out of place” element is Ahab, and I got such mixed emotional responses on him that I was initially worried about keeping him in the story. He stayed because, simply, I wanted Jason to have something that loved him no matter what, even when I was still mad at “him.”
Katie Darby Mullins teaches at the University of Evansville. In addition to being nominated for a Pushcart Prize and editing a rock ‘n roll crossover edition of the metrical poetry journal Measure, she’s been published or has work forthcoming in journals like Hawaii Pacific Review, Harpur Palate, Pithead Chapel, Big Lucks, The Evansville Review, and she was a semifinalist in the Ropewalk Press Fiction Chapbook competition and in the Casey Shay Press poetry chapbook competition. She’s also the lead writer and founder of the music blog Katie Darby Recommends.