From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Author Spotlight: Toiya Kristen Finley

Why was Virgil seemingly more able to see the holes and pieces of him floating out of him than the other characters?

I see Virgil as being someone who has more curiosity and respect for the past than the other men in his family. He realizes that the monetary value of those journals isn’t important; they connect him to his cultural history. In the last few years, I’ve been both astounded and greatly saddened that many black youth don’t understand their cultural history. I’m talking about not being aware of who Martin Luther King, Jr. was or why he had such an impact on the United States. I’ve been exploring that issue in my work recently, the cost of not understanding the history that helps to shape who we are. While his father might see them as interesting artifacts, Virgil is aware the journals and the man and woman who used to live in that house are a part of him. However, he’s not able to express to anyone else that they’re profoundly important to him or the story of the man and woman needs to be passed on to the rest of the community. In a sense, because he doesn’t fight to save that history, he loses it, and he loses himself in the process.

Where is Virgil’s mother? Why does Virgil feel so reluctant to ask her about the hole in himself?

Virgil’s parents are divorced, and they share joint custody. He spends the summers with his father. Virgil won’t allow himself to approach his mother about the hole because she has the same insight into spiritual things that he does. It’s fear that keeps him from asking. He understands exactly what’s happening–that he’s slowly being pulled out of existence–but having his mother tell him what he knows will make it more *real*. If he doesn’t have her confirm the truth, there’s a part of him that can be in denial.

He also doesn’t tell her because there’s nothing she can do about it. She would agonize over when and how he’d die just as he has.

Why didn’t Virgil’s dad ever bring the journals down from the attic? Why didn’t Virgil ever go looking for them?

This is difficult to answer because this element of the story is largely autobiographical. My father also found journals in the attic of my grandparents’ house, and he never showed them to me. He told me what was written in them, and it seemed unreal, that the house my grandparents, my father, and my aunts and uncle lived and grew up in could have been built by a former slave, and that he could have hidden a runaway, knowing it could cost them their lives if they were ever found out.

Yet I did not ask him to see the journals or to keep them. Years later, I’ve wondered why, and I deeply regret that I never did. I think I’ve tried to understand that through Virgil. While he understands that his father is not perfect, he respects him. He may not agree with what he does, but he doesn’t outwardly question him. And like me, I don’t believe that Virgil clearly understood the significant value of those journals or what their loss would mean.

Why was Virgil able to see the “ghosts” so easily when it was so rare for anyone else?

Virgil has a sensitivity to the realm of spirits and insight into that world. It’s a gift he received from his mother. On another level, it’s his longing to understand both his familial and cultural history that gives him a special connection to those ghosts.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

I’ve mentioned that Virgil’s story in many ways is my own. Over the years, I’ve often thought of those journals and the two people who lived in the house. The man who built it. The woman who lived there and disguised herself as a man. I have a vague recollection of what they looked like, but I’ve never known their names. In a way, I suppose I’ve been haunted by the fact that I didn’t say anything to save either their photos or the journals. I believe Virgil’s story is how I’ve tried to make sense of who they are and how I still feel connected to them after so many years.

William Sullivan is a writer, computer programmer, and musician living in Austin, Texas. You can find his website at