Dan Mancilla on the composition of his short story “The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery” 

“The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery” is an adapted chapter from my novel-length manuscript The Deathmask of El Gaucho. The novel follows the career of the popular luchador, El Gaucho and follows the lives of Flaco and Anthony, two little boys who are among El Gaucho’s biggest fans. The battles—scripted as well as real—in The Deathmask of El Gaucho that arise for Flaco and Anthony and for El Gaucho stem from an ill-fated career decision by the popular wrestler. Following an important match that the two boys happen to be in attendance of, El Gaucho unmasks himself. Throughout the rest of the novel Flaco, Anthony, and the wrestler deal with the ramifications of the unmasking. For the boys, that means learning how to be men in the fatherless (and now hero-less) landscape of the working-class, Hispanic neighborhood in which they live. For El Gaucho, it means coming to terms with the legacy of an important, yet ultimately unfulfilled, career.

I originally jotted down notes about the legend of the wrestler Pogue Malone more as information for myself. I needed to know the history of the wrestling federation which I was writing about. I love origin stories, and this quickly became an origin story of sorts. The legend of Pogue Malone was one which all wrestlers in my novel are familiar with; they’ve all measured themselves against his mythic greatness. And all, until El Gaucho, came up short.

While taking notes on The Pogue I stumbled on that collective voice of the wrestlers and the story began to write itself. I love the way an anonymous collective first person voice can bubble up to the surface to almost give the reader a sense of who that voice is, only to recede into the background. I look at texts such as Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily” or Jeffrey Eugenides’s The Virgin Suicides as prime examples of collective voices which bubble up to the surface. At the time, I was spending several hours a day researching the history of professional wrestling. I was immersed in the world of  wrestling in general and even more immersed in the historical period that The Pogue would have wrestled in. The voice and the time period kind of coalesced for me.

Even with the voice down and my interest in the historical period, I didn’t think the piece would find a home in any form in the novel. Then one of those happy accidents, call it serendipity or whatever, occurred when the storyline of The Pogue and his son, the Blanchard boy, came into focus. One of the running themes of the novel is the relationship between sons and fathers—whether that be good, bad, or non-existent. With that in place, and a little Catholic mysticism peppered in (much of my fiction is infused with the imagery and mythology of Catholicism with which I was raised) the piece took its final shape and fit in nicely with the novel.

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Dan Mancilla lives Kalamazoo, Michigan where he’s working towards his PhD in Creative Writing at Western Michigan University. Dan’s fiction has appeared in such publications as The Chicago Tribune’s Printers RowBarrelhouse, The Washington Square ReviewRiver Styx, and Bayou among others. “The Fifth Sorrowful Mystery” is an adapted chapter from Dan’s novel-length manuscript, The Deathmask of El Gaucho.