Pulling up stakes

Jack Driscoll reflects on life, loss and leaving Michigan

Jack Driscoll
Jack Driscoll

Renowned Michigan author Jack Driscoll’s “Twenty Stories” is the last book he’ll write in Michigan. Following his the death of his wife, Lois, early last year, he has decided he will return to Mystic, Connecticut, where he was born and raised.  

In a conversation with City Pulse from his home in Interlochen, where he taught writing for 33 years, Driscoll reflected on his decades of work and memories in Grand Traverse County, his adopted home turf.  

“Pulling up stakes is not easy,” Driscoll said. “This is where I’m from. This is where all my stories sprung from. This is my sense of place. It’s true that if I tried to locate all my stories somewhere else, they would cease to exist.” 

“Coming to Interlochen and landing this job has been the single best thing that has happened to me,” he added. “I learned to write here. I met my wife here and learned to teach here. I knew absolutely nothing, and I am still amazed they hired me.” 

Set for a Dec. 5 release via Pushcart Press, “Twenty Stories” is a collection of previously published short stories and several new ones. Taken as a whole, they represent some of his best, most potent work — some reflecting his sense of significant loss.  

“I’m looking at the world a whole lot different now than when I landed here when I was 29. Lois was my primary reader and only reader of my work,” said Driscoll, adding he would often read his work aloud to his wife and respect her absolute honesty. It’s an intimate editing system he’ll greatly miss.  

As with all writers, he has some difficulty choosing his most dramatic work, but he points to three pieces that he thinks are representative. First, he mentions the short story “On This Day You Are All Your Ages,” the first successful second-person story he wrote. A close second is “Gracie and Devere,” which is written from multiple points of view. The third pick, “Prowlers,” has the feel of Flannery O’Connor, a favorite author of Driscoll. 

During his career at the prestigious Interlochen Center for the Arts in northern Michigan, he has taught thousands of students, including some notable names. He reserved a long bookshelf for the works of his former students, like New York Times best-selling author Doug Stanton. Another past student, Vince Gilligan, creator of AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and “Better Call Saul,” looked him up before visiting Michigan.  

“I’m prouder of the books written by my students than I am of my own books,” he admits. 

As for his own works, the acclaimed author said his inspirations evolve as each year passes. Themes come and go.  

“I’m a fiction writer, and life-changing events are definitely reflected in my work,” he said. “The new story ‘At Any Given Time,’ confronts aging head-on.” 

Along with passing time, other recent stimuli and motifs occur and recur in his work. He’s noticed constellations have curiously crept into his work. “I have images of stars in my head,” he said.  

One constant he typically returns to is starting from the great unknown and creating the plot organically as he goes.     

“My style is to push forward from the opening line, and I have no idea where I’m going,” he said. “I’m so comfortable in the realm of not knowing where I’m going. I love that idea.”  

Advice-wise, in his teaching career, he has cautioned students to beware of their compulsions taking over their work. “Otherwise, you start sounding like yourself,” he said. 

Driscoll is the first to admit he’s not sure how his move will reflect on his work as a writer, but it will likely wind up on the page in some form.  

“It wouldn’t surprise me in the least that Mystic will be reflected in my fiction,” he said. 

While he’ll soon be moving 14 hours east, Driscoll said he’s still busy packing up his soon-to-be old house. During this challenging task, he’s discovered that there are no “inanimate objects” at this point in his grieving process. “Everything I pick up reminds me of our life together.” 


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