This is the Reason for Time, a podcast about memory, truth, invention and time, and how they came together in a novel.

This is the Reason for Time, a podcast about memory, truth, invention and time, and how they came together in a novel.

Show Notes:

 This is the Reason for Time

This is a "From the desk of Mary Burns podcast," with narration on inspiration and writing craft from the author, and readings by Ethel Whitty, a Vancouver, B.C. actress and writer whose day job for the past twelve years has been as director of The Carnegie Centre, a multi-purpose community centre providing services for the homeless and indigent on Vancouver's infamous Downtown Eastside. I love the hint of Cape Breton Island that remains in Ethel's voice. I found her perfect as Maeve.

Ethel Whitty, with a picture of the book's inspiration on the wall beside her.

Ethel Whitty, with a picture of the book's inspiration on the wall beside her.

In Episode One I discover that there may be a streetcar conductor related to my family, and head to Chicago's Newberry Library to find out what was going on in Chicago, in July, 1919. John Steinbeck's Journal of a Novel  provides a model for the podcast.The following link describes how that book has influenced other writers as well.

Ethel reads the opening scene, wherein Maeve watches a dirigible, The Wingfoot Express, crash into a downtown bank.Also a shout out to independent bookstores, such as Volumes Books in Chicago's Wicker Park neighbourhood.

Episode Two is an analysis of how I created the voice of Maeve Curragh. Douglas Glover ignited the spark of an idea with these words about the quintessence of a good novelist:

“… to have distanced yourself enough from your hang-ups and pettiness to create words reflecting the emotional complexity of mind beyond your own…to have worked with language long enough to be able to wield it beautifully…”

Howard Norman's The Bird Artist showed me that I could invent a voice that I feel is different from my own, in the books I published prior to The Reason for Time. For vocabulary, I consulted James T. Farrell's Studs Lonigan Trilogy, Edna O'Brien's, A Pagan Place, and newspapers of the day. Of course sentence structure played a big part, as well as contractions and the decision to use almost no relative pronouns.

Ethel reads Maeve's account of her first "date" with the streetcar conductor, Desmond Malloy, and I finish the episode with a shout out to two great independent bookstores in Vancouver, B.C., Pulp Fiction, and The Paper Hound

By the way, opening and closing each episode is the music of Scott Joplin, his Bethena, a Concert Waltz.


Episode Three is all about magic. My main character Maeve Curragh works at the Chicago Magic Company, one of many magic businesses that were thriving in Chicago 1919. I talk about how I decided to place her there, and how that rather unconscious decision based on location and architecture, simultaneously introduced the theme of the book. One of the founders of Chicago's Literary Hall of Fame, Don Evans, supplied a good line from this novel, Good Money After Bad:

“..Bravery and stupidity were such mirror images that you needed mismatched shirts to tell one from the other.” I wonder, what makes a believer different from a skeptic?

Ethel reads the scenes wherein Maeve describes how she came to work at the Chicago Magic Company, and we learn about her crush on a famous spiritualist of the era, Anna Eva Fay.

Also, a shout out to the wonderful Powell's Books, in Portland, Oregon, and other locations.

Anna Eva Fay

Anna Eva Fay

Episode Four  continues the magic theme, with some information about the superstitious Irish culture Maeve hailed from.“The piece of cake you saved for yourself under your pillow suddenly gone to remind you of your selfishness, but a wandering pig miraculously found before she fell into the hands of some family hungrier than your own.” 

I refer to Sister Carrie, by Theodore Dreiser, The Jungle, by Upton Sinclair, and the social worker Jane Addams, and discuss the condition of young women living on their own in American cities at that time, the challenges they faced and the ways they got around them. Ethel reads the early evening of that stifling Friday, and the kindness of strangers.

 Also, a shout out to Spoonbill and Sugartown Books in Brooklyn. Gotta love those independent bookstores.

Jane Addams, co-founder of Chicago's Hull House.

Jane Addams, co-founder of Chicago's Hull House.


Episode Five The influence of early 20th century American writers, and the special genius of John Dos Passos and his USA Trilogy

How newspapers came into the text, Walker Percy's take on validation, in The Moviegoer, and how my idea for the book changed over time. My publisher at Allium Press had a "thing" about names, she said, which led to some juggling, and my goodbye to Maire, hello to Maeve. Ethel reads the afternoon when Maeve "magically" comes upon a way to get a bathing costume for her date with Desmond.

All this plus a shout out to the Ennis Bookshop in Ennis, County Clare, Ireland.

Episode Six More literary influences, such as Theodore Dreiser's The Genius, in which the main character, Eugene, says at one point, "I like women with a little mouth on them, a little Spanish in them. That was one inspiration for the streetcar conductor,  Desmond Malloy. I also borrowed from the description of desirable employees, from the pov of the Chicago Surface Lines Company. It's all in the power to make people believe, says Maeve's boss at the Chicago Magic Company, Mr. R. The writer develops that power with character details, some adapted from life. Thomas Burns's book, and the scenes in which Maeve remembers her parents, read by the wonderful Ethel Whitty.

The books is available from online retailers, but why not try one of the great independent bookstores, such as Elliot Bay Books in Seattle.


Episode Seven One day while I was researching at the Chicago History Museum, a librarian informed me that I was not the only writer interested in that week in Chicago. Oh no! Gary Krist eventually published his non-fiction book, City of Scoundrels, a couple of years before The Reason for Time came out. Like Chicagaoans of the period that had captivated us, we were both absorbed by the story of little Janet Wilkinson, who had been abducted on her way home from school. It dominated the headlines for a few days even though there was so much else going on. Read all about it, and compare Gary's take and mine. You can pick up the books at Canada's largest independent bookstore, McNally Robinson in Winnipeg and Saskatoon. There's a branch of McNally's in New York City, too.