I’m going to go ahead and ask this because we’re all thinking it: are you drinking right now?
I have some double chocolate hot cocoa, if that’s what you mean.
Is that a shot? What’s in it?
It has water…and hot cocoa mix. Land O’ Lakes, if you must know.
It’s ten a.m., what do you expect?
More than hot chocolate, that’s for sure. I see your Instagram, I know what you do with your time.
You mean take pictures and only remember to post them hours or days later and not use #latergram? Yes, it’s exactly that.
You disappoint me.
Story of my life. Next question?
So you’re really not drinking anything?
I’ll wait patiently until you’re done with that line of questioning.
Fine. I’m done.
You sound like you need a drink. You could always take the Jimmy Buffett route and hide behind the idea that it’s five o’clock somewhere. But, this book, since I think that’s why we’re here.
Yes, God in Neon, your first book, yeah?
I wrote a flash chapbook, When You Cross That Line, which came out in May. It is a collection of five stories based on Florida Man stories. You’ve heard of them, right?
I know everything you know, so what do you think?
Fair enough. Aside from that, yes it’s my first collection.
It hasn’t really hit yet. I think some of my friends who I’ve spoken to about it are more excited than I am. I mean, I know it’s real, that there are words on a page that other people may pick up and read, but—I don’t know. It’s a weird feeling.
I bet. So the book is divided into two sections, why did you decide to do that?
I view the first section as a series of connected stories—they all, in some way, revolve around a bar/package store called The Package Depot. The characters all exist in the same town out in the mountains and, while only some of them interact, they’re all there, living in the background of each other. At the very least, that was the intention. The second section is composed of longer stories that deal with many of the same themes, but are more geographically spread out.
Geography seems to rear its head in a lot of your work. You mentioned the Florida man stories, and the first section all takes places in North Carolina, etc. What does sense of place mean to you, and why do you write, often, about the South?
I think geography has been important in a lot of my work because it’s how I’ve learned about myself over the past decade. Outside of the past three years that I spent in Florida, I had lived in a different state every year for five years. I went from college in North Carolina out to Montana, back home to Jersey, up to New Hampshire, and down to Florida. Now I’m in South Carolina. In trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing both as a person and as a writer, I’ve looked to the landscape and the cultural touchstones around me.
So you’re not from the South—you’re a Yankee, at that—why the South?
Yes, I was born and raised in New Jersey. I think, for the most part, I hide that well from many people I meet. I identify with the South because it’s where I came of age. Sure, years zero through eighteen are important, but I spent college trying to learn how to be less of a jerk, how to be a little smarter, how to not just waste oxygen. I made more mistakes than I can count, but it was those mistakes that have sent me along this path and, I think, those years, formed a lot more of how I approach things. Those first eighteen years were all well and good, but the sum total of life changing experiences were getting hit in the head with a baseball bat and going to an all-boys Jesuit high school.
I didn’t ask for a life story, you know.
You sort of—
I’m the one asking the questions here, moving on. Alcohol comes up in just about every story. What draws you to writing about alcohol? Do you feel that you’re just fulfilling the stereotype of the drunk writer?
I don’t feel that, no. I work as a spirits writer and I’ve worked in a winery and a brewery before. Alcohol is part of my life, for better or worse. There have definitely been better and worse times, and I’d be lying if I were to say there wouldn’t be any more on the worse side of things. I’m interested in alcohol because of its ability to produce both good and bad, sometimes within seconds of each other. Beyond that, I’m interested from an anthropological standpoint in how people interact around alcohol—what they do with it and what that accomplishes.
Do you write drunk, edit sober?
I have a poster of that hanging over my desk, but no. I have been drunk while writing before, but the cleanup process of trying to edit something like that has never been helpful to me. I’m not against drinking while writing, but in moderation. I want to say it was Russell Banks who said something like, if you’re going to drink while writing, cap it at three. I mostly don’t get intoxicated while writing because, if I were to write something that ends up being great, I’d get it in my head—because I’m superstitious or dumb or whatever, I guess—that that would be the only way to write good stuff, which is not true at all.
Well, I guess it’s about time to hit the ‘ol dusty trail about now. Final question: what drink(s) would you pair with God in Neon?
I think bourbon pops up the most in the book, so my immediate answer is that. On the rocks, I’d say. In cocktail form, something like a mint julep or a derivation of that would be good. If I had to pick something other than bourbon, the Green Isaac’s Special, which is a gin drink with coconut water that was one of Hemingway’s go-to drinks in Key West.
I guess now is where I say thank you and things like cheers. Do you sign your emails with ‘Cheers’? That’d be cute.
For you, I will. Cheers.
SAM SLAUGHTER is the author of the chapbook When You Cross That Line and the forthcoming books God in Neon (Lucky Bastard Press) and Dogs (Double Life Press). He is the spirits writer for The Manual and lives in South Carolina, where he’s at work on his MFA. He can be found online at www.samslaughterthewriter.com and on social media @slaughterwrites.