I killed this past June in Arizona, where instead of finishing my novel, I changed the thing completely. When I got this Journey Prize questionnaire, I was staying in a KOA Kabin in Flagstaff, beering more than I was writing, hiking up Mt. Elden in the day and at night reading Whitley Streiber's Communion. Thinking and talking about old writing while sweating new stuff is not always a good feeling, let me tell you...
- What was your reaction when you found out your story had been selected for The Journey Prize Stories?
There was elation and pride, sure, but later on. The first feeling was a sick feeling. I think I found out about this whole to-do on the second day of working full time on the book that I'd gotten some support and quit my job to write, and those first few days went pretty miserably. What I like to call The Dread was unpacking it's bags, cuing up episodes of The Simpsons to watch in lieu of doing anything worthwhile. To get word that something I'd done a year ago was considered decent by a cadre of people who should know triggered a kind of panic. What I'd done and what I was doing had absolutely nothing in common. That was another guy who did those JP stories. I'll tell what would be awesome: if you could somehow, impossibly, find out about these nods while you're in the throws of fret. Future You lands his rigged phone booth into you office and assures you that the garbage you're working on will turn out okay in end.
- Who is the first person you told the good news to?
I told The Dread first, and it was all like, "Fine. Okay. But what have you done lately?"
- What is your story about, and what was the inspiration for it?
"Manning" is about a son and mom trying to sell a split dad's card collection at basically a flea market. "I'm Sorry and Thank You" is about a drunk we don't know much about encountering a mother changing her baby on his front lawn.
"Manning" is somewhat inspired by this one time when I was a squirt and decided I'd sell all my sports cards, which I had been collecting just out of habit. I put an add in the Pennysaver and that Saturday set up a card table with my collection splayed out on it. All these fat, sweaty adult men showed up and got really mad at me because my cards were in no order and I had no idea what I had.
"I'm Sorry and Thank You" comes from a fairly literal source. I was working in this bookstore and on my lunch breaks I'd go to a bar down the street and usually drink two pints.This one day, I saw a hippy woman unwrapping her kid on the lawn of the pub. Seeing the mess, it occurred to me that a pre-solid baby basically makes a birds mess, and for the life of me I couldn't remember what the hole that birds have was called. When it came to me later on in my shift, it was an amazing, troubling feeling.
- When did you write it? How long did it take?
"I'm Sorry" was written probably in about the time it takes to read, which never happens to me and will probably never happen again. "Manning" also came out quick, but I spent a while tinkering, taking our and adding curses. Both stories happened sort of simultaneously, at a time where I was keeping a notebook and forcing myself to meet a daily quota. I'm not doing that now, and so produce very little it turns out.
- Did you do any research for the story?
I was going to ask, "Does beer count as research?" but it occurs to me that I'm nearly thirty and that's sad. So, no.
- Did the story, its themes, or its characters surprise you in any way?
Pickle wanting to keep the Rance Davis card for himself came as a surprise. I know we're told every character should have a Want, but I don't usually think of story in these terms, and I think my characters aren't usually desire-driven. It's sad to admit, but when all of a sudden this character had a clear Want in the story, I got a bit scared. I didn't know how to write that.
- Did you have an “aha” moment while working on the story?
- What is your favourite line in the story?
My favorite lines are probably the best examples of bad writing. From "I'm Sorry:" "A bunch of people had died somewhere because of something, he read." From "Manning:" "Whatever happened, something would happen."
- What is the best advice you’ve received about writing?
Trevor Ferguson once told me that, in the current climate, it's against all odds that anyone ever will read anything you write, let alone like or understand it, so you can feel free to write your goddamn heart out. He said it with a few more flowers though.
- How many attempts did it take before your story was accepted for publication?
I detest the submission process, so I rarely submit. With both stories, I got on base with the first swing.
- What advice do you have for someone looking to publish a story in a literary magazine?
At the time when I was submitting like nuts, I was submitting garbage and getting raw about it being rejected. Besides patience and sympathy for the people who have spend their days up to their tits in garbage submissions, I think a young writer should spend a lot of time honing an understanding of how publishable their stuff actually is. If a young writer's going to be a grouch about having a story rejected, then they should have to back that attitude up with a thirty page essay, with a works cited, on why they think their story about a young girl coming to the city from the country and finally knowing what it is to be free deserves to be published.
- What do you love most about the short story form?
There are a lot of things I don't like about the short story form, but maybe this isn't the machine to do that particular laundry in. What I love about short stories that I love is this lie that they tell you. I'm thinking here about Munro and Hemple and Lorrie Moore. Some people will tell you that the way to structure your story is with conflict and resolution, and then put an acetate on the overhead showing a graph of rise and fall--what I like to call the Stereotypical Male Orgasm Graph. When the writing's good, graphed stories like this can be good. But what I absolutely love about the short story form is it's ability to balk this structure in a way that novels can't. There'll be the opening conflict usually--the lie, like I was saying, or we can call it the arousal--but instead of the story being a machine of resolution, that climbing rise and fall, a great short story can--to maybe misremember a Leonard Cohen line--cover its reader with unspecific kisses, can be about constant, pleasing tension in a way that I have more trouble tolerating with longer forms.
- What is your favourite short story and/or short fiction collection, and why?
I love Amy Hemple's Collected Stories, and Lorrie Moore's Collected Stories (which I had to order from the UK). I feel safe when I've got these books handy.
- Are there any short fiction collections or short story writers you feel should be better known?
I don't know who's known and who's not--it's been a while since I've travelled in those circles. As an up-and-comer, I love this guy Kevin Moffett. His first collection, "Permanent Visitors," I really love. I think he might be better known in the US than he is in CA.
- What is the last short story or collection that really made an impression on you?
I got Kris Bertin (fellow JP nominee) to hand over his manuscript. His stuff is just thrilling to read. It's hurt and smart in a way that I crave from writing.
- What are you working on currently?
Holy moly. I'm writing a stupid novel. I tried. I tried so hard to keep the story a short story, but it wouldn't do it, wouldn't have it. I'm answering these questions from a cabin in Arizona (and now typing them out in a bar in town with wi-fi) where I'll hopefully finish the stupid thing. It's about two estranged sisters who sort of go looking for their father who vanished in the Superstition Mountains while searching for the Lost Dutchman's Mine. I think it might also be about what reality is. I have no idea what I'm doing. The stupid thing might be terrible. I'll tell you, right now's one of those times when I could really use a visit from Future Me. In his stead, beer will have to do. Beer and the urging of The Dread.