“Leaving a lot in the margins”: An Interview with Christopher Irvin

by Tara Laskowski See all Guest Readers
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Editor’s note: This week’s guest editor, Christopher Irvin, will be giving away a copy of his short story collection Safe Inside the Violence to the author whose story he chooses for his guest editing week. Read more about the book and order your copy here.

In your story collection Safe Inside the Violence there are a mix of stories about crime, family and relationship troubles, teenage angst, and economic tensions.  All of these pieces really fit nicely together to form a fantastic collection. Are these the themes that you find yourself drawn to often? Are these also the kinds of stories you like to read?

Thank you! I must be naturally drawn to them since they show up so frequently in my work (even in Wrestletown…but more on that later.) I have a close family/extended-family, two young sons (who I hold partially responsible for my recent nostalgic tear) and until a recent move lived in a very diverse neighborhood of Boston—all of which factored into my stories. I think crime is a great way to explore the themes you mentioned. Directly or indirectly, we are all effected by crime at some level, and I love to explore that tension and anxiety.

For example, someone stole construction signs out of my yard and my neighbor’s yard the other night. I’m up very early to write in the morning at the front of our house, and if someone were outside, they’d be able to see me, and I not them. Was I present during the theft? There’s a weird voyeuristic story there.

I do love to read these kinds of stories—both straight and on the weird-side. Short fiction by writers like Tom Perotta, Steve Weddle, William Boyle, Richard Lange, Glenn Gray, Helen Marshall, Nik Korpon, T.E. Grau, Nathan Ballingrud (I could go on and on) are all recent favorites.

There are a few flash fiction pieces mixed in with longer stories as well. Do you write a lot of flash fiction? What do you like about the form, and what do you not like so much?

I used to write a lot more flash. My first published story was for University of Maine Machias’s Ultra-Short Competition (150 words limit). My next big story was at Shotgun Honey (700 word limit). Later I became an editor for Shotgun Honey—reading/commenting on submissions was a huge boon for my writing. I’ve fallen away from writing flash since, but mostly because I underwrite everything, and I’ve been pushing myself to strive for longer stories.

I love how the experience of reading a piece of flash can stick with you—particularly those that hit sad/melancholic notes, but also comedy on the flip-side. Or the juxtaposition of the two. I haven’t been able to get into poetry, but I imagine the experience of reading/writing flash is similar for me. You can leave a lot unsaid/in the margins and still have a big impact.

Why is it so hard to write a really good crime or horror flash fiction story?

Tough question! I think there is a tendency to hit on thin tropes, or use heavy-handed violence to try and grab the reader. Submission piles are full of hit man/hardboiled detective/serial killer/”dame”/bank robbery/failed twist/etc stories. This is part of why I believe reading for Shotgun Honey was so important to the development of my voice as a writer – it raised my awareness of these pitfalls and pushed me to examine violence on the periphery, or tension/anxiety where the crime is actually absent or off page.

So you have a book about wrestling coming out? Tell us more about that.

Yes! I’m currently crowdfunding via Inkshares my debut illustrated novel, WRESTLETOWN. I wrote a little piece on my decision/process for LitReactor, but in a nutshell, Inkshares is a publisher that functions similar to Kickstarter except by copy instead of dollar amount. My friend/comic artist Andrew MacLean is illustrating the cover and interior artwork, and we are closing in on halfway to our initial publication goal. Here’s the pitch:

Orphans and best friends Motoko and Reg live in the crumbling attic of a cathedral-turned-pub in Wrestletown, a city obsessed with pro-wrestling, where the heroic wrestlers are worshipped as unbeatable gods, and everyone believes the action is real—that is, except for twelve-year-old Motoko, whose mother stole her innocence after her father, an unnamed wrestler walked out. The long-running head of The Ministry, The Booker, has died and it’s Kid Muscle, his adopted son’s turn to rule from Turnbuckle Tower, ushering in a new era of wrestling—one secretly planned to be fraught with conflict. When Motoko and Reg are saved by the Grand Champion, Amadeus Carp, after an attack amid the parade of champions, they are gifted front row seats to witness Carp’s first ever loss to The Revenant, a mysterious woman with ties to forgotten days of wrestling lore. With the former champion out for revenge, Motoko and Reg’s fierce loyalty will be tested as the city tilts on the edge, ready to explode.

It’s Tekkonkinkreet meets M.U.S.C.L.E and The Wrestler in a surreal/quirky, over-the-top rumble.

The campaign for the book runs through October (publication likely late spring 2017), and I’m doing giveaways every couple weeks or so to backers. The book is a lot of fun—adventure, coming-of-age, YA, and a little dystopian to boot.

About the Reader:

Christopher Irvin’s debut collection, Safe Inside the Violence, is a finalist for the 2016 Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection. He is also the author of Federales and Burn Cards. He lives in Boston, MA with his wife and two sons.

About the Interviewer:

Tara Laskowski has been editor at SmokeLong Quarterly since 2010. Her short story collection Bystanders was hailed by Jennifer Egan as "a bold, riveting mash-up of Hitchcockian suspense and campfire-tale chills." She is also the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Tara lives and works in a suburb of Washington, D.C.