DH: Derek, thanks for answering my questions about your collection, New World Order, published by Autumn Press. I wondered if you realize how rare it is to find a writer who is interested in what his characters do for a living.

Most of your characters either work for big global corporations or are freelancers living abroad. The nature of their work is often critical to the story.

Why did you choose a focus on corporate types abroad? What about such characters do you find interesting? I’m asking because so many writers find business executives uninteresting. So I am wondering what you see in them.

DG: Thanks for the questions, Dennis.  I agree with your point that not too many fiction writers seem interested in what people do for a living.  This is curious, to me at least, because what people do for a living is so integral to their concept of self and the place they hold in the world.  This isn’t superficial either—who we are is deeply influenced by what we do.  So I think it’s an important facet in telling stories, especially character-based ones.

There were two main reasons I decided to focus on corporate expats.  The first is sort of mundane: I had spend several years as a consultant on the international circuit.  So it was a world I kind of knew.

More interestingly, though, I think the use of these characters allowed for a certain kind of dramatic contrast:  business executive as a group are generally confident—often to a fault.  Placing them in unfamiliar territory where they don’t fully understand (or misunderstand) the rules of the road creates what I like to think of as story conditions.  To link these characters and stories, I invented an only-in-America company called Mason Worldwide.  It’s sort of Halliburton, if Halliburton is as evil as a lot of people think it is.

Thematically, New World Order is partly about how we as Americans thought the new century would unfold and how it actually has, since 9/11.  So much of what we as a people are all about has to do with commerce and trade and economic might.  It sort of defines our place in the world.  But suddenly it all looks a lot more shaky than we had believed.  So the company and the people it touches provided a world for these types of stories to take place.

DH: One of the most admirable features of your stories is that you are always thrusting your characters out of their comfort zones. Sometimes the discomfort is subtle, like in ‘Cultural Awareness’ where a hot shot, young male executive has his complacency overturned by a female corporate trainer. Or it can involve life-threatening  risk like in the aptly named ‘Blood Money’ where a lark by some friends into the desert results in an unexpected horror show of cultural differences. You’re a very “physical” writer. Something that JE would endorse. You throw your characters bodily into the soup and you have the writer’s toolbox to do so convincingly.

It gives your writing a very distinctive character. What accounts for this, I wonder? Are you a big sports fan? Are you stimulated by physical risk? I was thinking in this connection that your stories would make a great recommendation for a “guys” read…maybe even the sort of adventure stories that teenage boys would love.

DG: Thanks for the compliments!  To take your points in order: breaking point…

For me the point of fiction is revelation of character.  One good way to really see what people are made of is to see how they respond to situations of unrelenting, escalating stress—which is what a story is at its base.

Travel provides a perfect pressure cooker for character.  Sometimes the character learns he’s not what as tough as he though—as in Cultural Awareness.  Or in Blood Money, where a miscalculation by hardened expats leads to disastrous results.

The stories are physical—stuff happens.  This is partly just the way I write.  I believe stories are about character and it’s through action that character is best understood.  We are what we do not what we say….

But there’s another level to this.   I think the stories reflect a sort of physicality that is particularly American.  Americans do things.   This can sometimes be unfortunate—a shoot first and ask questions later issue.  But Americans are doers.  And so this for me needed to be a major part of the book.  In the novel I’m writing, this physical dimension will be even more important.

DH: Several of your stories feature encounters with uncanny or supernatural elements. In one story of corporate revenge, voodoo plays a role. In another  story, there’s a strange native character whose drawings appear to foretell the future. I had several takes on your sometime affinity for the weird.

Your characters are coping with life abroad, with cultures where their understanding of what’s going on is fragmentary. So it’s not surprising that they would react to the impact of myth and folklore in such alien surroundings. Your characters are uprooted and grasping at straws.

But these folkloric elements also remind me of the colonial literature of several generations back. I appreciated the links to older writers on the exotic like Kipling and W. H. Hudson. Does the older literature about Americans abroad interest you? Why the occasional spookiness in your stories? What do you like about it?

DG: I definitely wanted to have at least a whiff of the supernatural in these stories and I think that’s partly because I just find those stories a little more interesting than straight realist stories.  It’s just too tempting when you’re placing a character in another culture—especially one like Latin America, which has a powerful tradition of the supernatural.

You’re very perceptive, by the way, to point toward slightly older writers, too.  In my case, the immediate influences were H.H. Munro, aka “Saki,” and Roald Dahl. Paul Bowels, too, though he’s not so much a writer of the supernatural as the simply plain horrific!  All, by the way, wrote about strangers in strange lands quite a bit….

DH: Derek, when I was thinking about what I liked about New World Order, I came up with two vital basics. First, having started one of your stories, the reader wants to read it to the end. I never for a second wanted to lay one of your tales aside and not find out what happens.

The second basic is virtually uncanny. It is that you have a knack for presenting your characters to the reader swiftly, so that they immediately have a sense of who the character is, as if they had just met them. That’s real writing magic.

As far as I can tell, it’s not done so much with description, which can be static, but by presenting your characters situationally…so we grasp who the person is by visualizing their setting and by what they are doing.

Where does this writer’s magic come from? Silly question, right? It seems to me that writers are born with the talent to tell a story. You can train for it but you have to be built to do it in the first place. I know you’ve taught a writing course or two. So what is your take on what makes a writer and also…would you like to tell us what you are working on now? And thanks, Derek, for some great storytelling with such memorable characters.

DG: Well, thanks again, Dennis.  I do believe there’s a certain magic to stories but not much magic to writing them.  You just have to work at learning the basics of what a story is—and there are a surprisingly large number of writers, even very good ones— who really don’t seem to understand story-telling.  Or they understand it and are simply interested in something else—language or some other important aspect of writing that isn’t story telling.

In other words, story-writing is a craft.  I’m  not saying I am a master craftsman myself—just that stories have certain features and if you understand them, writing stories is something that is within reach.

I think you hit the nail on the head for what I am trying to do anyway—which is to place a certain type of character into a certain type of situation.  When this person acts, you get an immediate sense of what she is made of—and you enter the land of story.  Of course the, character then encounters more difficulty—the situation escalates, the stakes rise.  And the reader wants to know what happens next.

There’s a lot of discussion about character- or plot-driven fiction  but I think that’s mostly nonsense.  Character is plot, in dramatic fiction. So, you get a character capable of action a bad situation, and there’s a certain logic that unfolds and the logic result in a story.  And it really is magic once it’s done!

Thanks again Dennis and look forward to more conversations about writing!

DH: Derek Green came to my attention when three of my Facebook friends friended him on the same day. Who was this guy? A writer. I hastened over to Amazon to check him out and discovered his story collection, New World Order by the invaluable Autumn House Press. I was intrigued by the theme that holds the collection together: Americans working abroad in the new global order.

So I gambled a few bucks and bought the collection. This was a gamble I won. Derek is a born storyteller. He’s the kind of guy who you could sit down and have a beer with that you would forget to drink while he told you these tales about guys out of their country and mostly out of their depth. But let’s let Derek Green talk for himself. Here’s his WWFIL.

DG: My own addiction began early. I recall a steady habit of Scholastic paperbacks followed by the entire Hardy Boy Mystery Stories series—the latter in hardback editions sporting the shamelessly clean-cut cover art of the time. I couldn’t consume them quickly enough. My parents encouraged me, looking the other way as I moved on from such light fare to harder stuff: Isaac Asimov and Star Trek pulps, the cosmic horror of HP Lovecraft, and a newcomer in those days, Stephen King. Like anyone else with a dependency, I used constantly—in the john, in my bedroom alone. Before school, after school, and during school. Wherever heartier boys exercised their limbs, I could be found with a book.

But it was not until high school that it occurred to me that I might not only consume: why not produce this stuff too? By then I had discovered George Orwell, an experience from which I have not yet fully recovered. I read Animal Farm and1984 at the dawn of the Reagan era and it seemed to my book-addled psyche that this was what I wanted to do. Forget the MBA yuppies of the age, chasing the almighty dollar in power ties and BMWs. I would write.

My reading became frightfully promiscuous from then on and remains only slightly less so today. I was moved to write (or try to) by The World According to Garp and Under the Volcano. These two books should not be read by an earnest young writer in the same summer. I remember the searing experience of discovering Blood Meridian and wondering how I would ever learn to write with McCarthy’s thundering cadences. (Short answer: I wouldn’t, and didn’t need to. Even McCarthy never managed it again.) I became hopelessly hooked on the hopped-up noir of LA Confidential andAmerican Tabloid, and equally infatuated with Elmore Leonard’s Detroit cool. (Can anything be more different from Get Shorty than the Melvillian excesses of Blood Meridian? The answer is no.)

I decided to learn to write short stories, so I read the pastel-covered Echo Press library of Chekhov and The Stories of John Cheever to find out what a short story was. Along the way I discovered Anna Karenina, Anna Karenina, Anna Karenina. I moved from fiction to the more potent forms of non-fiction: Richard Preston, Susan Orlean, Richard Rhodes, Jon Krakhauer. The list went on.

By the middle 1990’s I had grown confused (a trait common to addicts and to writers). I was still hooked on books but older and less tolerant of writerly poverty. Reagan was gone, Clinton was in, and it seemed like time to chase some bucks. (I was reading Michael Lewis at the time.) I donned that power tie, and offered my writing skills to the highest bidder. As a creative consultant, I traveled around the world, but never lost my secret urge to write. Then I read Bruce Chatwin. In Patagonia and The Songlines (channeled through The Sun Also Rises and the stories of Saki in ways that even I don’t fully understand) led me to see how I could write a book. Which I did. I even got it published.

These days reading remains a barely controlled addiction. Sometimes it takes exotic turns (for me at least): a newly-acquired taste for Haruki Murakami (Hardboiled Wonderland at the End of the World comes to mind) and a renewed admiration for Jorge Luis Borges (Ficciones) and the great Juan Rulfo of Pedro Páramo.

But I see signs of mellowing. I’m in my mid-forties now and like some middle-aged Dead Head, my pace has slowed. I find myself drawn to the longer and slower stories of Alice Munro. Tears swim into my eyes at odd times as I read the beautiful and elegiac and only occasionally overwrought prose of the wonderful Jim Harrison, most recently in Returning to Earth. (Harrison believes that heaven is a small cottage in the woods which you share with the dogs you’ve known in life.) Less interested in racking up new experiences, I am as likely to reread as to read.

And with this slower pace comes something unexpected: I am writing more. Longer, slower stories. Essays on travel and on food. Long notes to my children and my wife. Novels. Maybe now I am finally ready to emulate and, in my own humble way, create in others the feelings I have enjoyed all these years. Maybe.