Author Maureen Pilkington
Leap Off the High Board with Maureen Pilkington
BY TOM MCDERMOTT
Chances are that it has been a while since you read a short story. Maybe you have never gotten over having to read a few back in high school, or perhaps your Paris Review subscription has lapsed. Shame.
Maureen Pilkington is out to change that, not only with her new book of short stories, but with Page Turners, the writing program she founded for city schools in the Archdiocese of New York. Great readers, she knows, become great writers. She will look you in the eye and tell you, “Writing enhances your life.” She means it.
Pilkington’s book, “This Side of Water: Stories” (Regal House Publishing) came out in the spring. By summer, it had won the American Fiction Award in the story category, sponsored by the American Book Fest in Los Angeles.
Naturally, she lives by the Mill Pond in Rye, and when she’s not there she’s in Manhattan or out promoting her book with other writers, sometimes with her brother Kevin, a poet and novelist. Or, maybe she’s in London or Pittsburgh visiting her daughter in college or her son in Baltimore. These days, she seems to be on the move.
Born in Mt. Vernon, Pilkington has lived in Westchester her entire life. She began writing early and never quit. “I just wrote,” she says, “In elementary school someone told me ‘You’re a writer’. Around that time, I read a Ray Bradbury story, ‘All Summer in a Day’, which had a real twist. It turned writing into my calling.” In “Turquoise Water Behind Him”, the reader can see the influence of that Bradbury twist, but we don’t want to spoil it.
Later, when she was a student at The Ursuline School, Pilkington said, “Being creative was not cool. I was a painter, and not a perfect student.” One senses that may be an understatement, partially because the women in her stories are unpredictable, both vulnerable and bold.
Readers of her stories will occasionally see glimpses of Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone.” “Blue Tip Shore Club” is one of those stories with just a touch of macabre. Turns out that Pilkington was a “Zone” rerun junkie.
You may have noticed that all the titles have water references in them: ponds, rivers, beaches, shore clubs (just like the ones in Rye), oceans, and holy water appear in the book. “Water” contains four sections: “Phosphorescence”, “Vapor”, “Tide Pool”, and “White Caps”. The stories take place in Westchester towns, Manhattan, the Hamptons. Characters develop quickly and style shifts from story to story. Pilkington knows the writer doesn’t have time to lure a reader with short stories and must (sorry) dive right in. She does not miss many dives.
“I’m not a planner,” she notes. “The character will tell me where they’re going.”
Pilkington is no stranger to publishing, as she was a subsidiary rights director. While her children were growing up, she received an M.A. in Creative Writing at Sarah Lawrence College. How did the mother of two find time to write when the kids were young? “I wrote everywhere. In the car in parking lots waiting to make pickups. In notebooks, on laptops.”
In person, Pilkington is modest but does not lack confidence. Her first story was accepted immediately. “Towards the Norwegian Sea” (this writer’s favorite – I kept thinking of actresses I’d want to play Toshy in the movie) recently appeared in The Antioch Review, a serious literary publication. Her stories have also appeared in Ploughshares and the Santa Barbara Review.
When not writing stories, Pilkington writes personal essays for Weston Magazine Group. She has written two novels and is now concentrating on one that is a contemporary story about two seniors at a boarding school.
Clearly, she is not going to get writer’s block anytime soon. “I see how writing held my hand during inevitable traumas and brought me a certain coherence, settling my jumpy thoughts,” she says.