Lisa Cupolo

Creative Writing Professor Lisa Cupolo recently published her book Have Mercy On Us (Regal House Publishing, 2023). The new book is a collection of stories that explores love, relationships, and all the complications: loss, betrayal, and longing. The collection features not only romantic love and relationships, but also that of mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and friends and siblings.

The Voice of Wilkinson recently sat down with Cupolo to talk about Have Mercy On Us.

Voice of Wilkinson: Tell us about the book and these ten stories.   

Lisa Cupolo: The stories are wide-ranging in character’s ages and origin. I’ve been lucky to travel a lot and the stories take place in Greece, Kenya, Calgary, Toronto, London, places that I’ve lived, and often these landscapes seem like characters too.

For me, each story arrives almost like a welcome visitor I wasn’t expecting. Stories come from a kind of immense curiosity, and an urge to explore experience. I’ve always, since I was a child, been extremely interested in what it’s like to be someone else–to see what the world looks like from someone else’s eyes. For instance, in “Ft. Pierce, Florida” I had been studying Zora Neale Hurston’s work and reading about her life, and when I learned that, at 60, she was forced to work as a maid in a motel in Florida, I found myself trying to imagine what that must have been like for her, how that must have felt for this brilliant writer to be put in that situation. And the story began to take shape.

VoW: What inspired you to write these stories?

LC: My inspiration to write stories is often ignited by an image or a slice of dialogue I hear. I feel like each day is a drama waiting to happen. We can’t anticipate that experience and it’s exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. Something as simple as walking into town, for example, can bring fascinating exchanges or create memorable images that I can write about later.

VoW: When did you start writing and how did these specific stories transpire?

LC: I’ve been writing most of my life. I was very ill when I was 13 and spent my teens in and out of hospitals and sitting out of life, as it were, and that experience made me into an observer. I had a lot of time to think! I grew up in Niagara Falls, Canada, and it was a magical place for my imagination, and I had five older siblings who brought a lot of excitement to our house.

I had many different jobs in my twenties and thirties and never stayed in a place for more than three years… I was a sports photographer in Calgary, an aide worker in Kenya, a paparazzi photographer in London. It wasn’t until I worked at HarperCollins in Toronto that I began to think about pursuing writing as more than an avocation.

The arrangement of them is mostly something I did by mood–they’re not connected really, except that I wrote them, if that makes any sense. I have no overriding theme, really–just the expression of the complications we all live with, you know. The subject, if it can be reduced to a single statement, is love.