Will Mayer

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Mary Carroll-Hackett

Second Advisor

Brett Hursey

Third Advisor

Rhonda Brock-Servais


The purpose of this thesis is to explore the different man’ s place in fiction. In some cases this man is peculiar, in some cases he is merely contrary to the community around him, and at other times he may only be viewed as different by either himself or those around him. In the tradition of the science fiction author, my work also focuses on the strange to give us a new look at what we call normal so that we can see its inherent strangeness. While the shorter work contained in this thesis often does not follow some of the other conventions of science fiction authors like Robert Heinlein and Ray Bradbury who use the setting of a different world or a different time to allow the reader to accept incongruities of the character against our cultural normalcy, it still makes use of the strange to aid the reader in suspending belief and identifying with the type of characters that lurk on the outskirts of societal norms and might not always be the most easy to relate to. Identifying with these unique characters is precisely what allows a reader to drop his guard because it puts him at a distance that feels safe and cut-off from his own space. While Heinlein sends a character back in time to sleep with his grandmother, I force mine to come to grips with a telepathic cactus. While Bradbury uses robots to embody human emotion, I place an executioner in the role of a husband and friend to the not quite dead that he failed to hang properly. While H.G. Wells uses The Invisible Man to explore how a man with incredible power will abuse it, Soul Sickness addresses the question of whether a person’s soul can be inherently evil.

In all three of the cases above (and in the more realist pieces that populate my thesis) my characters are not only surrounded by differences, but are themselves perceived as different. They are the types of characters that Flannery O’Connor might think would make the best chickens, as she “favored those with one green eye and one orange or with overlong necks and crooked combs.” There is something appealing (and non-threatening) about the non-stereotypical protagonist, whether delusional, exotic, or simply quiet and passive. In Half-Hanged, it is Harris’ differentness that casts him as an outsider in his community. It is this outsider status that drives his need for family to such a great extent that he takes up living with the vegetative-state people that survive his gallows. In ,4 Nomad's Castle, being different is much more understated, but just as important to the protagonist. The boy merely sees things differently (and also desires them to be different). The magic in the story, worked through the talking toy Indian, is not dissimilar to the magic in Half-Hanged. Though the boy is not given undead family members, like Harris, he is still given a gift brought to fruition by his need. The gift is small, a pile of hailstones making a strong castle in front of his window, but, like Harris, it gives him an affirmation of faith and strength to continue forward in a world that he previously felt had left him on the outside.

My connection with these characters is tied directly to the gifts the universe gives them to help solve their problems. It is difficult to restore the connection that children have with faith, but I feel that it shows its power to me in the same small and quiet ways it shows itself to my characters. Therefore, whether my characters don’t see it is as positive (the cactus in Sarcactus), or equate it to anything supernatural (the contract work in A Real World, Everyday Hero), the intervention of a greater power that creates an avenue for a need to be fulfilled is usually present in some way, shape, or form within my fiction.

And to go back to Flannery O’Connor’s references to domestic fowl that somehow perfectly describe my characters, “If I refer to them as [mine], the pronoun is legal, nothing more,” and like real people, I cannot always make them see that the universe is looking out for them. However, by allowing readers to see the workings of a benevolent universal force obliquely (through safely distant pariah-like characters), rather than head on, my work can reveal its truth without alienating the readers who might otherwise avoid stories that contain a belief in the power of faith.



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