Smoking With Roy Kesey

Read the Story August 15, 2004

“Drop” is a gorgeous story. The final image is stunning. What gave you the idea for this story?

Thanks. I’ve never actually had an idea for a story, at least not in terms of plot or character or setting—well, okay, I have, but when I start with an idea as such the result is always crap. On the other hand, if I nail the voice right at the beginning, the rest is just logistics, algebra, triangulation, only more fun, like shooting pool. “Drop” kicked off with what is now the first sentence of the second paragraph, and I knew I was in pretty good shape.

Has the experience of living as an ex-pat in Beijing changed your writing in any way?

Dunno. The process hasn’t changed—stare at the wall, hope for something good. Moving here has certainly given me access to new raw materials, but any big move will do that for you. And I’ve been an ex-pat in one place or another for so long that that’s just kind of a standard MO for me by now. Thus, to recapitulate, in conclusion: dunno. Great food here, though.

You are so skilled at the short form. Do you have any plans for a novel?

Again, thanks. My first novel (by which I mean my third, but the first that’s any good) is out dancing for editors as we speak—if anybody decides to slip a dollar into its g string, you’ll be the first to know.

At what point in your life did you know, without a doubt, that you wanted to be a writer?

I was four or five when I first figured out how much fun it was to build little word-machines (my debut effort, “The Monster that Attacked the House,” well, it’s a little too complex to get into here, but there’s this monster, see, that attacks this house…) but I was in my second year of college before I ever knew there was such a thing as magazines that actually published literary things written by actual people. And I thought (this is a direct quote): Neato.

You get to ask one writer one question. Who is the writer and what would you ask him/her?

I guess I’d choose one of my current heroes—George Saunders, Lydia Davis, Tony Earley, Peter Ho Davies—and my question would be, “Right, so, yes, well, what I was wondering is, do you— Okay, let me put that another way, what I’m trying to get at is that thing you do, that really good thing, and how exactly—Hold on, okay, so, I’m curious, what exactly is the means, or the manner, I guess, really, more the manner than the means… Never mind. Thank you, though. Thank you very much.”

I get stage fright, see.

About the Author:

Roy Kesey was born in California, and currently lives in Beijing with his wife and children. His stories have been or will soon be published in The Iowa Review, The Georgia Review, The Mississippi Review and McSweeney’s, among other magazines. His dispatches from China appear regularly on the McSweeney’s website.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.