Though Karin Cecile Davidson has made Columbus her home, the hotter and more humid climes of her youth are never far from her mind or her writing. The places that made her are portrayed in vivid detail in Davidson’s newly released short story collection, The Geography of First Kisses, which won the 2022 Acacia Fiction Prize at Kallisto Gaia Press.
“We moved to New Orleans when I was 7 in the late ‘60s. The Vietnam War is going on, flower power, and free love,” said Davidson, who was born in Smyrna Beach, Florida. “I’d go out on my bicycle, taking it all in. It was a time when parents told their kids to go play and didn’t expect them home until dinner.”
Along the way, Davidson picked up bits and pieces that would later inform stories. A throwaway line in an Oxford American story about a pig being tossed across a bar was reimagined in “Sweet Iowa.” A family vacation to Picayune, Mississippi, where quail were hunted and cleaned for eating, inspired “Bobwhite.” And there are hurricanes a-plenty, of course, including characters who fear them and those who give chase in fascination.
Growing up in the South gives writers-in-the-making a wealth of stories and traditions from which to draw – perhaps due to the constant stream of delightfully weird occurrences, which Davidson described as a normal part of her adolescence. “Especially in New Orleans, there are so many characters,” she said. “Just look at Mardi Gras.”
The Geography of First Kisses includes 14 stories written over a span of 10 years that all work in concert. This was a nice surprise for Davidson, who hadn’t set out to write a formal short story collection.
“I started writing the beginning stories probably around the same time I started writing the stories for my first novel, Sybelia Drive,” said Davidson, who will appear in conversation with fellow local author Michelle Herman at Bexley Public Library on Tuesday, April 18. “So, I wrote the collection and the novel at the same time thinking I was just writing individual stories. But themes started to emerge.”
The most prominent of these themes centers on independent women who know what they want and aren’t afraid to do what it takes to get it.
Davidson’s women flirt confidently with men, and sometimes leave with them on motorcycles. They unflinchingly watch quails being plucked and beheaded for their next meal. One tosses a pig across a bar and sets the whole place to cheering. Another sends her husband off on a wild goose chase for a runaway horse that may or may not exist. They run into hurricanes instead of away from them.
Davidson said the title story, which opens the collection, is her perennial favorite. The story itself is a meditation on first kisses told through the directions of a compass, though the title is also indicative of the collection at large. Whether they’ve kissed once or many times, the characters are trying new things and experiencing the world with fresh eyes – and not just in the romantic sense. As these characters learn, the world is never as linear, straightforward or predictable as it appears.
While there’s much to admire in these characters, Davidson is quick to draw the line between her life and the page.
“There are a lot of elements that these characters have that I also have, but I’m not them,” she said. “When Sybelia Drive was published, people kept asking me which of the two main characters I was, but I’m neither.”