You wouldn’t think this would be so hard since you spend so much of the day home alone talking to yourself.
That’s true. I, we rather, have had plenty of practice.
So on with it then. What’s new?
The cereal kick I suppose, but you already knew that. I’m going on like three months of this bizarre cereal kick. In fact…I’ll be back in five…
– Half an hour later –
That was longer than five minutes.
Sorry. I have Cowboys and Aliens On Demand. Anyway, yeah, the cereal kick. I’ve been going at it hard for a while now. Honey Bunches of Oats with Almonds. Honey Bunches of Oats with Raisins. Frosted Cheerios. Mixing and matching. I’ve been trying to cut back as of late, half-bowling it and such. I have an addictive personality and a man can only push his luck so far.
What else is happening in your life? I mean, besides cereal?
The book is happening I suppose. I mean it is happening. It’s a short story collection entitled Fires of Our Choosing.
Interesting title. You come up with that all by yourself?
Sort of. It was almost the same title I had originally given to my MFA thesis which looks absolutely nothing like the book now. Only two or so of those stories actually made it into this version, and they’ve been revised and rewritten ad nauseam, which is not a good way to describe one’s own work, which is why I guess I’ll never be a publicist. But it’s true and it’s something I think authors don’t talk about so much. How you can work and rework a story so many times that even when you feel as though you’re getting it right or it’s getting itself right, you can’t stand the sight of it. That’s not how I feel about the book now, of course. Now I’m quite fond of it. It’s returned to my good graces. But at times it drove me wild, insane, mad with frustration and angst. Anyhow, way back then it was called Through Fires of Our Choosing. I polished it, bound it, and trotted (trotted?) it over to my thesis director, the brilliant writer Michael Byers. He took one look at the title page, pulled out a red pen, and crossed out the word Through.
I see. So why that title?
Well, first off I’ve noticed that it’s divisive. People seem to really like it or really hate it. I’ve been on both sides of that fence. But mostly it has something to do with a certain amount of accountability. So many of the characters in the book have awful things happen to them. There are fires (obviously), drownings, robberies, break-ups, impending imprisonments, and all nature of tragedy, and through it all so many of these characters are looking to blame anyone around them, anyone but themselves. Many of my friends growing up were like that. I was like that. Willing to take credit for anything good that came my way, but so quick to dismiss trouble as not self-inflicted.
Have you changed?
I’d like to think so.
So, if for instance you spilled a full bowl of Special K on yourself you wouldn’t blame me?
I might, although, I wouldn’t be eating Special K in the first place so it’s kind of a mute point.
I think it’s moot.
Yes, the stories all take place in or around my hometown of Erie, Pennsylvania. It’s actually a really interesting place to grow up. Like so many other towns, it’s suffered from industry leaving, but it still has so much character and fortitude. And the city itself is very urban, but drive twenty minutes outside of town and it can get very rural very fast. I like that. The stories in the book reflect that. One of my favorite kinds of story collections is one where the situations and characters and conflicts are varied. As much as I absolutely adore the work of Raymond Carver I can’t sit down and read one of his collections straight through. There’s the obvious threat of setting the book aside and walking off a cliff, and besides, I prefer to come back to them from time to time, savor them rather than reading them one after another. Some collections are like that whereas a collection such as Wells Tower’s Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is more varied situationally. That’s more along the lines of what I was hoping to achieve.
Who’s the oldest character in your book?
Any favorite short stories?
Too many to name really, but I could read White Angel by Michael Cunningham a hundred times in a row and still get emotional when Carlton is lying on that carpet bleeding to death and his girlfriend whispers in his ear.
Really nice note to leave this thing off on.
You’ve got all the answers, don’t you.