“Care for Language”: An Interview With Guest Reader Michael Don

by Shasta Grant See all Guest Readers

Congratulations on publishing your debut collection of stories, Partners and Strangers (Carnegie Mellon University Press)! What can you tell us about the collection? Are there recurring themes in the stories?

Thanks! The collection is made up of 13 stories that vary in style—from hard realism to the absurd and surreal and maybe even gothic—but are definitely thematically linked. Many of the characters are dealing with issues surrounding intimacy, alienation, grief and deviance. You know, the fun, light, page-turning stuff! I think the collection tends to be both dark and funny at the same time, which is how I often experience the world. Many of the partners in the stories become strangers in some sense and many of the strangers serve as partners. Lastly, I’ll go ahead and list a few nouns that you’ll find in the book: the Craigslist Killer, eggplant, wooden boy, soft-shell crabs, electric toothbrush, AT&T man, bird poop, Frida Kahlo portrait, the Effingham cross.

Where do you write?

I mostly write at cafes because I find that background noise and external stimuli keep me focused. I’m much more likely to fritter away time on the internet when I’m writing in solitude. I also like being around others who at least appear to be working even if they’re actually buying avocado oil or googling “Quarter Life Crisis.” Sometimes at a cafe I can’t help but eavesdrop on the conversations around me, but this feels productive as a writer and sometimes inspiring.

What is the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

My college mentor and now good friend of many years, Jonathan Strong, once assured me that every thing you do during the day is part of the writing process and so you don’t need to sit down and write for four to eight hours every day to be a writer. This advice helps me not feel guilty about being out in the world, interacting and observing, and doing my day job. I get a lot of energy and motivation and writing material from being away from my computer. I also like the meditative nature of running, showering, washing dishes, and driving. I do a lot of thinking and writing in my head while doing these activities.

What kind of story would you love to find in your queue this week?

I’m feeling pretty open these days and truly excited about what might appear in my queue. I want to read stories that feel so true that I don’t realize I’m reading. Does that make any sense? I’m looking for both heart and brain and care for language. Nothing too maudlin or too detached. The unexpected but not the unbelievable. Send me your best flash piece and I will be excited to read it with great attention and care!

About the Reader:

Michael Don is the author of the story collection Partners and Strangers (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2019). His stories have appeared in journals such as Washington Square Review, Fiction International, Wigleaf, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and SmokeLong Quarterly. He teaches at Penn State University and co-edits Kikwetu. 

About the Interviewer:

Shasta Grant is the author of the chapbook Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home (Split Lip Press, 2017). She was the 2016 SmokeLong Quarterly Kathy Fish Fellow and she won the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest. Her stories have appeared in Hobart, matchbook, MonkeyBicyclewigleaf, and elsewhere.