So you’ve published your second collection of stories, Big Venerable (CCLaP Publishing, 2015), after publishing one a while ago called Why God Why. The people who read Why God Why (Love Symbol Press, 2013) seemed to like it. Why not finish on a high note? Why write another book and risk failure again?
Because I’m greedy. I want to write all the books. Unfortunately there isn’t enough time. Maybe one day…
That’s nonsense, that’s a nonsense answer and you know it. Give me a real answer.
Yes, it is nonsense. You know me so well! But here’s something that is true, I wrote some of the stories from Big Venerable much earlier than any that appeared in Why God Why. So really, Big Venerable, as a book, is just the culmination of that effort. It’s interesting to see how your work evolves. especially with respect to character development, something that was largely absent in the flash fictions of Why God Why.
Sounds more truthful, on the whole. But let’s talk about subject matter with a bit more heft to it. I am you, after all. Tell me, why do you feel you’re generally misunderstood in your fiction?
I don’t know… what do you mean?
You know what I mean.
Ok, I’m going to answer you with two things, because yes, that is something I have felt — and I’m going to try not to evade the question. My first answer is this, every artist probably spends a lot of their time believing they’re misunderstood, and I’m no different. That’s the more cop-out-y answer. I try to express something with my work just like anyone and I want it to hit some nebulous mark, kind of throwing darts at a dartboard. You can get points for hitting all the various sections on the board, but it’s especially significant when you hit the bull’s eye. Because we create art at least in part to have meaningful connections with other people beyond the superficial ones we’re forced into through work, school or any of the millions of other social settings that put people together and feel forced, stilted, artificial and, all too often, meaningless.
Here’s my second, hopefully more substantive and, yes, more honest response: too many people miss the purpose behind things like humor in, say, fiction. But even that gets to be too reductive.
You’re obfuscating the issue…
No! I’m not, or I am a little, but there are also substantive reasons for explaining it in this technical way. Yes, on the one hand, I might be doing a lot to manufacture my own self-importance. But on the other hand, it’s because so many funny writers I’ve encountered have been written off as just that, “funny,” when there is so much more to their work, and humor is one way of getting whatever they feel they need to express across.
I think humor in fiction is as complex as anything else in its more interesting (to me) derivations. Take the aphorisms of Nietzsche. One of my favorites is perhaps his most funny and also most complex:
“Having a talent is not enough: one must also have your permission to have it—right, my friends?”
It’s funny precisely because it hits on something complex about human nature — and increasingly so as you dig into its words more deeply.
Through a kind of meta-analysis of the nature of talent, Nietzsche offers that yes others need to have the affirmation of some audience of peers to confirm their abilities are extraordinary but at the same time, he humorously breaks the fourth wall to ask that same audience if this notion is, in their eyes, correct, and through it proving all the more its salient truth, that Nietzsche is equally human and requires the same affirmation from his peers that everyone does.
So what does any of that have to do with you and your work?
I try to do the same things in my stories. I’m interested in human behavior and everything that artificially divides us, through various constructs, and everything that can allow for more meaningful, deeper, more authentically human interactions.
I’m like Nietzsche, see? I have value!
That remains to be seen. But it’s good of you to attempt some explanation for why you feel your work is more deserving of acclaim (which itself goes hand-in-hand with feeling misunderstood, don’t you think?) than the millions of other people writing, and writing very well, in this day and age. Pretty entitled, really.
Ok, you seem tired. Why don’t we talk about something simpler, so as to not work you up any further?
What can you tell us that would make people want to read Big Venerable?
My earlier explanation for what motivates me in my writing should hopefully–
Oh, well, I like to write about unusual places. Like for instance there’s a story that revolves around hiking in an artificial forest. That story is kind of operating on the assumption that all forests in the future, at least those open to the public, will be artificial.
There’s another about a bureaucracy run amok, one that requires regular “voluntary” participation in rallies that ultimately decide on how best to expand the bureaucracy. I write about a fast food restaurant that first revels in the beauty of things that are flawed but then adopts a business model of imploring people to buy from their principal competition.
Ah, sounds like Kafka meets George Orwell meets George Saunders meets Gary Shteyngart. Any original ideas in there?
Well if you want to boil it down to a convergence of influences, I won’t deny I admire a lot of books those writers have written. I think I’m doing something unique, though, something that’s as influenced by other writers as it is all my own. I grant that that’s the general goal of most everyone who writes anything, or so it seems to me.
We’ll see. Thanks for letting me interview you. It’s been informative perhaps to some people.
You’re kind of a jerk, aren’t you?
A little bit, yes.
MATT ROWAN lives in Chicago, IL, with his wife and two talented chihuahuas. He co-edits Untoward Magazine and serves as fiction editor of ACM: Another Chicago Magazine. In addition to Big Venerable, he’s author of Why God Why (Love Symbol Press, 2013). His fiction has been published in mojo journal, Pear Noir!, Necessary Fiction, elsewhere, and more at literaryequations.blogspot.com.