Storyglossia Issue 38, February 2010.

An Interview with Jeff Lacy


Jeff Lacy's short story, "Good Intentions," appears in Storyglossia 38. Here, Jeff discusses contrast as a theme, creating real characters, how being a lawyer has influenced his fiction, and what he's currently working on.


Anne Valente: To some extent, Ike seems bound by expectations in this story—what he expects Emerald to be like, how 'the man of the house' should act, what a good husband should do. How do these expectations play into the events that unfold throughout the story?


Jeff Lacy: This story is about contrasts. Ike is ingenuous, while Emerald is street wise. Ike is constant, while Emerald is a convert and an apostate which is something Ike cannot fathom. Ike is from a stable family which means support and peace. Ike is sober. Emerald is an addict. Ike is hard-working, dependable, honest. Emerald becomes unreliable, intractable.


Ike thought Emerald was a certain type of person, or wanted her to be a certain type of person. Based on his background in how he saw his mother and father behave, and guided by the teachings of the Bible (which would to him be the absolute, exact words of God) he had a concrete image of marriage. Soon the image changed. But he stuck with her because that's what he had vowed to do. In the good and the bad, in sickness and health. She was lost and he was going to bring her back. It's his faith that motivates him always. When he went to rescue Emerald, he took no weapon. He went believing it was his right to recover his wife. It was not a complicated decision for Ike. Indeed, he expects Emerald to behave exactly like she did before they were married. Unfortunately, she surprises him at each encounter at being the opposite.


AV: Ike's parents keep portraits of the greats in their home—Dr. King, John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy—that seem to subtly contribute to these expectations for Ike's life. Do you view Ike's main conflicts as external, internal, or some combination of both?


JL: I don't think Ike was a man with any conflicts. It was the world which would have described him as ingenuous, na ve, simple. Ike is a man of great faith. An Old Testament God kind of man. He believed that one worked hard, didn't steal, led an honest life, lived within one's means, prayed often, went to church regularly, remained sober, did not pollute the temple of God with obscenity, nicotine, alcohol, etc. He lived by simple guideline. His life was simple. As the Bible instructs, he did not live among the world or care about worldly things. I don't think he was conflicted until after the killing.


AV: Throughout the story, Ike tries to do good, but he's also capable of great violence. Is it difficult to create a sympathetic character who is also capable of deplorable acts?


JL: Representing as many diverse people for as long as I did, I concluded that anyone of us is capable of deplorable acts, reckless acts, destructive acts, mean acts, sneaky acts, careless acts. All these acts hurt people, maim people, destroy people's lives, destroy property, destroy families. With that said, no, is wasn't hard to create Ike. Ike went in that house with peace in his heart. He went in that house doing what he thought was his duty as a husband. That's what he understood the Bible said to do, I imagine. He had simple motives. He didn't have violent motives. Would he have fled out the back door if it hadn't been blocked? I believe so. Was he defending himself after leaving the kitchen? Was he trying to flee out the front door? Then he was attacked. By Itchy, then more violently by Emerald. Why did Ike have the knife? Was it because he perceived Itchy to have a larger weapon? There were a lot of perceptions inside that dark house that went haywire. Should Ike have broken the door in? No. We know that. But, if we put ourselves in Ike's shoes and that's my purpose here then we know yes. Yes he should have, because a drug dealer was in there poisoning his wife and he needed to go in there and rescue her from this criminal.


AV: The title resonates so powerfully at the end, when Ike reminds himself that "he had wanted no trouble." To what extent are his good intentions destined to fail, even from the beginning?


JL: I think his good intentions are destined to fail because he's not dealing with tractable people on the inside of the house. He already knows that Emerald is reusing and the guy she's with is a drug dealer, not a real good combination. They're not going to take his religion too seriously, as one saw they didn't. They only thing that would have gotten their attention would have been the sight of the end of the muzzle of a semiautomatic pointed at them and a few attention shots. That is the universal language for drug dealers, not the "I've come to save your soul" or "I've come to rescue my wife in the name of First Corinthians."


AV: As one who practices law and has worked in public defense, has your work ever influenced your fiction?


JL: Being a trial lawyer has certainly influenced my fiction. There's no way around it. Being a public defender for so long and a prosecutor for a short period of time were intense experiences. It's certainly warped my sense of the world. Just ask my wife. I have fiction that is what I call "Mother Approved" and then the rest. Most of it isn't "Mother Approved." Most of my stuff is dark. It's been singularly influenced by being buzzed through heavy steel doors whose locks clack and shut hollowly down corridors and hallways. I hate that sound. It unnerves me. Hours at jails and prisons visiting people in orange, navy, dark green, and white trustee, surgical scrubs or jump suits.


I've also seen unreasonable expectations as to what the broken American criminal justice system can provide. Abusive judges, lazy judges, ignorant judges. Young prosecutors with little to no life experiences wielding unbelievable power. Apathetic jurors who will tell you during selection that they believe in the presumption of innocence like a criminal trial is another politically correct forum and jury selection is like group formation or the Oprah show. Or, there are jurors who think the real world is like their CSI television shows and DNA or fingerprints can be lifted off anything and tests can be performed.


The people in my "submerged population," as Frank O'Connor termed the characters whom he wrote about, are the ones involved in the system or the people sucked up by the system. But not all my stories are based on my legal background. Some are based on the stories and people my dad told me about who lived in Fairmount, Georgia. I was adopted when I was six weeks old. I reunited with my Dad in 2005. It's been an incredible experience. We call our days out driving around through north Georgia "loafing." We'll usually go see Mr. Willie at his knife shop in Ellijay and get a soft ice cream at Dairy Queen. Many of my stories are sparked by my Pa or our loafing trips.


"Good Intentions," specifically, is based on The State of Georgia v. Osby Jackson, a death penalty case in Glynn County, Georgia, in the mid-1990s. I sat third chair while a young assistant public defender. I helped the trial lawyer write motions and briefs, assisted during jury selection, went to J.C. Penney and bought Osby clothes to wear during trial, and made McDonald's runs to buy Osby quarter pounders with cheese meals with strawberry shakes. I had only been practicing about five years and hadn't tried many cases; I had never sat on a murder case. Osby was a big man, very religious, soft spoken, and gentle. He came from a fine family. As a client, he never was demanding. He testified at his trial. His testimony was painfully truthful. The prosecutor had Osby come off the witness stand for a good long time and diagram what happened inside the house and when he chased his wife's lover across the street. Thankfully, he didn't get the death penalty, but life without parole. For me, this was a perfect story to tell; full of contrasts between settings, characters, dialogue.


AV: What are you currently working on? Any stories forthcoming that we can point readers to?


JL: I just completed a novel entitled A Weak Sense of Consequences. It's about an innocent woman who is released from a year in jail who makes the Dixie Mafia's Southeastern Continental Wrestling Federation the target of a federal grand jury investigation. After the Mafia's botched hit on her, which claims her young son, she flees the country, still trying to remake herself and her life. When the remaining people she loves die, she comes to the crossroad of whether to go on living or swim out into the surf and float out into the rip tide.


The last three or four months have been extremely busy and creatively draining. It's time now to fill the tanks. I've got a stack of books to read. Once I hear the voices again, then it will be time to write. That's how it works for me. The voices will come and they will compel me. And then I will begin the building of the work of fiction.


Jeff Lacy was born and raised in Georgia. For many years he worked as a public defender in the Atlanta area and Glynn County, Georgia, and then received a MFA from the University of Nebraska. His stories have appeared in Timber Creek Review, Conte, The Wrong Tree Review, The Legendary, Review Americana—A Literary Journal, Green Silk Journal, Full of Crow, Writer's Bloc (Rutgers), Bring the Ink, Sex and Murder Magazine, Flash Fiction Offensive, Darkest Before the Dawn, and Mary Magazine. He has recently completed his first novel.