Smoking With Murray Dunlap

by Kelly Spitzer Read the Story July 25, 2010

The first interview we did together for SmokeLong was for the anniversary issue way back in June of 2008. Since that time, almost everything in your life has changed due to an automobile accident. What is it like writing from this entirely different place and perspective?

Writing now is very difficult. I see nothing in the same way. Money, for example, is meaningless. I could have gone to anyone just after the car crash I was in and handed them a million bucks and it would not have sped up my recovery or helped me to walk. So, that, among countless other things, is just different. Another example. When I try to put myself in the mind of a character, I am much more likely to see their plight as less difficult than I’m certain I would have. But the important things are still important, like love and care. Now those remain as important to me as always.

This story reads like a puzzle, with you giving us, your readers, pieces like: “The thing you should understand first is that the man from Tucson doesn’t love me and I don’t love him…” and the photo, the pistol, a night where no one is clearly identified, and a mysterious anticipated visitor popping up at the end. How hard was it to lay these clues in just the right order?

Because of the automobile accident, I have near 100% amnesia. So, I have no idea how hard it was. I don’t remember writing it. I guess it’s obvious that I was mad at my ex-wife for some reason. Why, I have no idea. It seems to me that I was putting myself in the hypothetical situation of being cheated on. Now, my ex never cheated on me. I know that. So, I’m sort of clueless as to my motivation in writing this. And as for a plan to get things in the right order, I assume I simply wished to build tension in such a way that the reader felt informed, but surprised at the same time. I think it works. You?

Works for me! Have you found it easier to analyze the stories you wrote prior to the accident from an editor’s perspective?

To be perfectly honest, no. Having no memory of why I wrote any of them in the first place, it is a real struggle. But I find I’m remembering more every day. So. It’s getting better for sure.

There are three distinct relationships in this story—woman + husband, woman + Tucson, and husband + Tucson—and each relationship is very entangled. The woman’s relationship with the two is more… certain. Husband and Tucson’s relationship, however, is laden with innuendos.

Indeed there are, Kelly. A tight little triangle that we all tend to face at some point in our lives… I find the spacing of the triangle had led to the entanglement that destroys so many couples, but not this one. Which is an odd decision for me to have made. I have no idea why I did that. I can only assume I was exploring the fiction of cheating… No idea. But everything is like that now. Again, I have no memory of writing this. So. I guess I was simply exploring the idea, rather than the reality. And yes, The pair of men is far more complex. I think. I can only assume that was my main exploration. The way men’s lives become entangled and overlap and create loads of tension. As there was no cheating in my reality, it would seem that this allowed me to explore that life when I knew perfectly well that it was no reality for me. I find it very complex and interesting to read now, as an observer.

Tell us about the anthology you’re co-editing for Press 53.

That has been an honest to goodness lifesaver. I was very surprised Kevin Watson had time to start a new project at that exact moment. But we got to talking about what I’ve been going through, and Michael Knight had the terrific idea to call it “What Doesn’t Kill You,” and it’s been wonderful to work on ever since. I am forever grateful for Kevin giving me a job to do in this, the worst, most nonsensical time in my life…

About the Author:

Murray Dunlap's work has appeared in Virginia Quarterly Review, Post Road, Night Train, Silent Voices, The Bark, and many others. His stories have been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, as well as to Best New American Voices, and his first book, "Bastard Blue," was a finalist for the Maurice Prize in Fiction. The brilliant Pam Houston taught him the craft of writing. He would like to thank his trainers Garrett and Joe at Personal Edge Fitness, and the writers Richard Bausch, Michael Knight, and George Singleton for helping him get his body and brain back together, somehow without making him feel stupid.

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