“Dog Bites Queen” is absurd like Ionesco, and just as aware of structure and conflict. So much fiction online seems in love with the vignette, which is fine. But “DBQ” detonates form, with parts in screenplay, epigram, and fable. More importantly, it works. How did you compose this piece?
Once those Forster and Le Carré quotes came together in my head, those four characters – the king, the queen, the dog, the cat – came alive for me. Perhaps I would have done better to write a comic strip about them, or make a series of claymation shorts! Instead I had the urge to channel Damon Runyon and Denis Johnson – authors from different times who manage to be both highly stylized and extremely raw. The target audience for this piece is probably way too literary, but I’m glad it worked for you!
Building on the previous question, “DBQ” evolves like a piece of music, variations on a theme. Sort of the way jokes are told. What place does comedy have in your fiction?
I think one prerequisite for being funny is that you’re saying something that, on some level, you actually believe. To me, life seems funny/ ironic/ absurd enough that fiction doesn’t feel realistic if it excludes those elements. On another level, some form of humor probably underlies all creativity— the basic impulse to put things together in the wrong way and see if you get away with it.
“Sobbing like a Congressman” is an awesome simile. Since it’s officially election season, I have to ask. Do you have any political wisdom for us?
Unlikely. A recent Goodreads review of my novel All Her Father’s Guns includes this comment— “What I got out of it is that we may not be the way we see ourselves and some people are just bat shit crazy.” I draw the same moral from the race for the GOP nomination. For some reason that quote gives me a warm, fuzzy, my-work-on-this-planet-is-done-type feeling, but I’m guessing it may not count as “political wisdom,” if “political wisdom” isn’t an oxymoron anyway… I got my daughter a guitar for Christmas, and we just collaborated on a protest song where the chorus goes “Don’t vote for anyone else than Obama, or you’ll get eaten by a shark.”
This question comes from Jacob Silverman, author of “Clearing”— “Should writers allow themselves to play video games, or will they suck writers’ precious time down a (gorgeous, high-definition, enthralling and addictive) black hole? Asking for a friend.”
Since the only game I’m hooked on at the moment is Words With Friends, Silverman’s friend might want to consult a better-informed source, such as Tom Bissell’s Extra Lives. Maybe he should also ask himself whether he wouldn’t really prefer to be a writer for the gaming industry, with a view to later becoming a game designer? It’s because I find certain short stories and novels completely enthralling and addictive that I try to write things I hope will have a similar impact on some other people. If I found an artform that enthralled me more, I hope I would defect.
James, you don’t know who or what we’re publishing the week after you. But never mind that. What question should I ask them?
How are we going to save the short story? No pressure there.