Matt, you’re a big fan of making ridiculous lists as a way of generating material for these weird little stories you like to write and which Stillhouse Press has kindly decided to publish in a book titled Maybe Mermaids and Robots are Lonely. So why don’t we try that here.
Cool, sounds fun.
Great. Let’s start with this: list your five favorite emerging or emerged writers that many people probably haven’t heard of.
Okay, right off the bat, that’s hard. And, also, I thought this was supposed to be about me?
Just … just answer, dude. Get over yourself. We don’t need the commentary.
- Dustin M. Hoffman. He’s got a book out, One-Hundred Knuckled Fist, and it’s excellent. His stories all involve people at work—the kinds of jobs that we don’t think about, like a house painter. Few writers even think about their characters’ jobs, much less put those jobs at the center of the story, much less make that story weird and awesomely beautiful.
- Kelly Luce. If you haven’t read Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail, go get it. It’s a collection of wonderfully magical and inventive stories that each cuts in its own different way right through to the important parts of us, like identity. She’s also got a novel on the way titled Pull Me Under.
- Melissa Goodrich. Melissa’s work—collected in Daughters of Monsters—is extraordinary in that it immediately grabs at you and sucks you into these worlds that are weird and off-kilter but recognizable in small, painful, and magical ways.
- Elena Passarello. Her first collection of essays, Let Me Clear My Throat, involved voice or sound in some way. Her second collection, due out on 2017, is all essays about famous animals. Her work hits right at the cross-section of fun, interesting, soulful, and thought-provoking.
- Peter Markus. With several books, he’s pretty well emerged. And yet not enough people know Peter Markus. His stories are weird and his style is challenging but also dizzyingly spellbinding. His words work on the consciousness in unexpected ways and, especially in novels like We Make Mud, you end up finding story and soul swirling around and around you long after you’ve finished reading.
List five objects you remember from your childhood home.
- The dryer, which would send steam out into the garage and out into the cold outside on winter days.
- The small patio bordered by railroad ties and which housed, we learned later, a family of wasps that would prevent any efforts toward refurbishing or redoing the patio.
- The sandbox that, once we were no longer children, became a rose garden.
- The living room couch we weren’t allowed to sit on.
- The exhaust fan in the ceiling that only came on for particularly hot days, protected all other times behind a slatted ceiling of metal slats that would open to reveal the fan when we needed it.
Hmm. OK. Well, how about something more relevant to the book. Let’s say, three locations in the neighborhood in which you grew up that made it into the book.
I grew up in the suburbs outside Detroit and in our neighborhood, specifically in the Stoneridge subdivision in Troy, and in our subdivision there were all kinds of places that were both city and country but also neither city nor country. I love thinking about these spaces, and many of them were included in the book.
- The sub’s “forest,” such as it was. In reality, it takes up maybe a square block, maybe an acre. To us, though, it extended for miles and housed all sorts of mysteries and mysterious creatures, like the Snow Man that appears in “A Monster for Always.”
- The park. We had a number of parks in our sub, actually. One stands out in particular. It was a small shell of a park next to a side street—nothing more than a swing set and a crude, foot-powered carousel of the kind they don’t allow on playgrounds now. I can’t say why it carries such meaning for me. Maybe because it was just far enough from our house, from our side of the subdivision, as to require parental supervision if we wanted to go play. But it’s where the narrator in “Plain Burial” lays his dog Bentley to rest. It just seemed appropriate.
- The maple tree. We had a tall maple tree in our backyard. In summer, full-leafed, it would take over the yard and develop its own ecosystem. In winter, it would disappear into thin, snow-lined branches. In between, it would grow and release seed pods that would helicopter to the ground. My sisters and I would split them open at the ends and use the tacky of their insides to stick them to our noses. We could be rhinos or unicorns or elephants or anything else, really, that we wanted to be. That tree shows up, probably, in every story I write; it was that big and holds that big a space in my memory.
Well that’s sweet. How about ten of your favorite onomatopoeic (or almost onomatopoeic) words?
Okay. Let’s do one last one. What are five things people should know about the book?
- It’s not a children’s book. Or maybe it is. Or probably it’s not. There are a lot of children in the book and there are a lot of characters from my childhood. And childhood is certainly a theme that runs throughout the book—especially the ways in which we see the world when we’re children. But there are adult themes too. I don’t know. It’s fun. It’s a good, fun book.
- Some of the stories in the book took a day or two to write and some of them took a year or two. I’m generally a pretty slow writer and I like to think about a story for a while before I start putting it to the page. I also like to let the story lead me. Sometimes it all comes pouring out in one go. More often, it rattles around inside me. I’ll often start a story, leave it for a few months, and then come back to it with fresh eyes to write it to completion.
- Each of the stories is inspired in some way by a character that’s become almost mythological or legendary in American culture. Some of these characters are specific creatures we’ve exalted into legend, like Bigfoot or Andre the Giant, and some of them are amalgamations we’ve created, like the good soldier or the shotgun rider or the boxer. If these are fairy tales, I wanted them to be very American fairy tales, or, more specifically, suburban American fairy tales. I wanted to write stories that felt like they already exist, they’re so engrained in my understanding of the world.
- I managed to slip the name of my imaginary friend from when I was a kid into the acknowledgments section.
- This book wouldn’t be what it is without the incredible support of the people at Stillhouse Press. They saw the promise of this book when it was fresh and still a little raw and messy. In particular, my editor Justin Lafreniere helped refine some of the less refined stories and to pull the thing together into one beautiful whole. I’m indescribably grateful.
Alright, let’s end it there, Fogarty, before you get too sappy. Get back to work!
MATTHEW FOGARTY’S work has appeared in Passages North, Fourteen Hills, PANK, The Rumpus, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere. He has twice been a finalist for the Write-a-House residency, and has received scholarships from the New Harmony Writers Workshop, the Wesleyan Writers Conference, and the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. He earned his MFA at the University of South Carolina, where he served as the Editor of Yemassee. Currently, Fogarty is a Co-Publisher of Jellyfish Highway. He is originally from Troy, Michigan, one of the square-mile suburbs of Detroit.