NS: You have a knack for endings. Is this something you aim for in your writing? I was especially intrigued by Buffalo Park, fabulous ending for a short fiction piece.
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The short answer is yes. Definitely. Endings are elusive as all hell but endlessly satisfying once you nail them down. It is what you leave your readers with, your offering. I like writing that leaves you with questions. That literally has you turn the page to find the absence of print. That keeps your mind in motion, immersed with the characters long after it is all said and done. I like endings that do not falsify and contradict the very world they inhabit, like our history books and our social narratives tend to do. Endings can be redeeming or comforting or even happy but they do not work unless they stay true to their framework. I think all too often writers believe that they must save us from having to experience complexity and the raw emotion of uncertainty. As if we would crumble under the weight of a story that doesn’t have the characters rescued from their environment. And, damn it, I think readers should do a bit of work.
Buffalo Park was one of those rare stories where I knew the ending before anything else, and yet, the final sentence was only written after I had edited it about ten times. Meaning, I understood the mechanics of where she physically would end up but the imagery had to be drawn out over a period of time. I guess, the key to a good ending, from a drafting standpoint is revision, revision, revision. Knowing when to step off the stage.
NS: What plans, hopes, dreams do you have for your writing?
On a very basic level I’m planning to complete my novel sometime in this century or the next and then follow it up with a book of short fiction. In terms of hopes and dreams: well, I don’t know about you but I’d love to have my work banned. I mean, Jesus, what more can you ask for? Then again, Harry Potter has been banned in parts of this country so at least for the moment, in America, the bar is not very high.
Of course, enjoyed and respected would be nice as well.
But I also hope to keep improving and evolving and learning. Over time I’ve learned a tough lesson about storytelling. I learned that if I wanted to change the world on a literal level, well then, I would have to create change through my actions outside of my fiction. I grew frustrated because I had very clear intentions for the stories I wrote and yet my characters refused to cooperate and conform to my will. I had become a dictator of sorts. I was so concerned with the distribution of my own opinions and sociopolitical views that I lost sight of my characters and what they needed in order to be fully realized and sound on the page. I thought that I needed to have all the answers and yet I had removed the process of discovery, which is such an integral part of why I write in the first place.
It’s something along the lines of what Milan Kundera once said: “I invent stories, confront one with another, and by this means I ask questions. The stupidity of people comes from having an answer for everything.”
I’d say that that is pretty sound advice.
NS: Genre and form that you enjoy the most?
I’ve never been that concerned with genre. I’m pretty sure that a great read can exist in the realm of magical realism or fantasy. Although I would say one of those is much more prone to disappointment, but I’ll leave that for you to decide.
Form is something I spend more time with. I am a huge fan of short fiction of any size or shape. I always love to read long fiction that reads like short fiction. That’s probably why I love story cycles. They work like a Fatih Akin film. Story cycles are character heavy and many times you are dropped in the midst of action that precludes the past and future. You begin somewhere with a level of disorientation. As each chapter builds, the list of characters grows and time can shift through past, present, and future. At times you may feel disconnected. However, there is always a current raging through each section, an arc, and in the end the plot unfolds so that by the final page you realize that you have been privy to a complete and satisfying narrative, perhaps at times dysfunctional but interwoven and complex.
NS: Authors that have influenced you? I felt a tinge of Marquez, less florid, but no less romantic.
Marquez is a lofty compliment and certainly, without a doubt, a writer I’ve learned from and love.
It’s hard to say without going into a long big old list: my short fiction influences come from Nadine Gordimer, Raymond Carver, and Eduardo Galeano. But where would I be without James Baldwin, John Kennedy Toole and Edwidge Danticat? Every few months it seems I discover a new writer, and I say to myself, how could I have missed this? I think I’m influenced by what strikes me at the moment as impossible to put down, as invaluable. And then I try to figure out how that writer elicited such a powerful emotion or response within me.
I truly believe that the more diverse you are as a reader the stronger your own writing will become. But I believe just as strongly in the power of satire; and its ability to elicit laughter. I gravitate towards writers with a trenchant sense of humor, especially when they wrestle with topics that tend to overwhelm and puzzle us all.
I’ve also had the pleasure of learning from one of the writers featured here on Curly Red Stories, Joshua Mohr, and I would include him as an invaluable source of knowledge and invention and laughter.
NS: Are you a painter as well? Your fiction has strong visual elements in it.
I’m the son of a painter. I grew up around art in various forms. There was never a shortage of paint and canvas and drawing material in my house. And I think it is safe to say that I was influenced by the power of visual creativity. In almost every case I cannot write a scene unless it plays out in my head. I have to be able to visualize my characters and the settings they will act within. At one point, when we lived in Ohio our house was filled with very large paintings. The entire collection of these paintings was one narrative divided between I believe twelve framed pieces. These paintings were not your everyday farmhouse with a blue sky and birds or whatever. They were huge subversive collages with text and in one case a giant nude man who was in the act of crushing a city beneath his feet. When we first arrived his penis was the talk of our very small town but in the end my house was the place to be, where everyone hung out. It may have been the only place in that part of town where you would see a three hundred pound football player seated and lounging casually under what he thought he feared the most. Perhaps, unknowingly, that is where I learned about the power of choosing just the right image.
NS: Anything else you want to add?
This was fun. I appreciate that you took the time to ask me questions.
••• You are very welcome! NIYA