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Brian SmithI imagine you are very used to seeing your words in print after nearly two decades as a journalist and columnist. In fact, I saw you contributed music essays to two books published earlier this year. But does it feel different to have your very own work of fiction published? How?

It’s terrifying. I’ve written things in the past that had real consequences. Twice I had my life threatened from stories I wrote. One time in Detroit I was punched so hard in the face my eye was swollen shut for days. The guy hated what I wrote, but I’m pretty sure I was just telling the truth.

With fiction, it’s a different truth, a bigger one (we hope) in that the stories can ultimately define whatever moment we’re suffering through, or bouncing through with joy in our steps. That’s what my favorite writers, like Dorothy Allison, Bonnie Jo Campbell, Willy Vlautin, Denis Johnson, Jim Harrison, Harry Crews, and Charles Bukowski always did or do, somehow. I hope I can do a little of that for someone, somewhere. It’s about self-definition, and empathy for the world around us. I’m always terrified I fail at that. So that’s what’s scary.

author-photoI’d like to begin by thanking you for taking the time to speak with me.

You’re very welcome. I suppose it must seem odd though, to be addressing questions to yourself.

 

Indeed. Yet at the same time, I seem to recall your remarking that when you reread this book, by which I mean your recently published story collection This is a Dance Movie!, it almost felt to you as though the work had been written by another person.

That’s very true. The majority of these stories were written and published between 2008 and 2011.

color-author-photoOkay, I know you’ve been really nervous about this self-interview, but why don’t you just drink a cocktail, grow a pair, and I’ll ask you some questions.

(The author makes a vodka gimlet.)

 

So, who are you, Micah Perks?

That’s exactly why I didn’t want to do this. I knew you were going to be like that.

 

Like what?

A wiseacre.

DSCF6152Apparently Christine Rice was in a foul mood the day I called to chat about her debut novel Swarm Theory (University of Hell Press, April 2016). Although I did not read the book, nor had I done my research, I expected her to be more gracious. Sadly, she was rude and uncharitable. I had heard the rumors but, alas, she was much, much worse than the stories Hypertext Managing Editor Chelsea Laine Wells had shared with me (temper tantrums, screaming, etc.).

The following reflects our conversation. I have deleted all expletives (hers) from this draft. For the unexpurgated interview, click HERE.

amina_gautier5.creditjennibryantI notice that every time someone asks you when you’re going to write a novel, you get pretty snippy about it. Sometimes even—dare I say?—downright snarky. Do you hate novels so much?

I don’t hate novels at all. There are many novels I absolutely adore! A Lesson Before Dying, The Age of Innocence, Beloved, The Color Purple, Erasure, Fight Club, The Known World, Montana 1948, Not Without Laughter, Passing, Quicksand, The Remains of the Day, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and Their Eyes Were Watching God –just to name a few.

 

Don’t you want your books to sell? Don’t novels sell better? Why don’t you just shut everybody up and write one?

I am a writer who is a literature scholar and professor and that is the lens through which I look to see the world of writing. So I know that there is no correlation between a book’s advance or publisher and the book getting invited into the academy.

Kristopher Jansma credit Michael LevyKris, now that I have you here, can I ask what exactly this book of ours is about?

This “book of ours” as you put it, is a novel called Why We Came to the City, and it is about five friends living in New York City, struggling with their big dreams and small mortalities in the face of overwhelming odds.

 

That sounds like something that I could really identify with.

Is that a joke?