This story starts with the word “And,” suggesting we are in the middle of a much bigger story. What do you know of the story before this?
The word “and” makes me painfully uneasy. It is what follows a bad punch line, a comedian trying to save his ship by adding more water. It is that hapless city slicker in a horror movie who fumbles to reload a pistol after burying six slugs into the meat locker behind the advancing killer. For me, it is a word of failure and second attempts. If the first word of this story has anything to do with something larger, then it is just a link to a few (probably failed) stories that came before.
Where did you find the inspiration for this story? Do you usually begin with a scene, a phrase, a character, or some combination (or something else entirely)?
Inspiration for this story comes from time. When I was in my MFA program, I had all the time in the world. Now, just having a few minutes to sit and write is inspiring.
The sense of place feels important, it is so specific. Palermo, Sardinia, the boy is Austrian. How does the location itself influence the story?
I think it is a sense of no-place that is important to this story. Despite the old man being Italian, he is not Sardinian. The boy and his family are from Austria. None of these characters are natural to this location and that distance somehow encourages them into games of creation and outright lies. It seems very self-evident that we cannot fully grasp the essence of different places and different people by spending a few days among them, but we often create stories and take pictures to convince ourselves that we do (myself included). It seems a grand exercise in bad faith.
Do you know why the character attempted suicide at 19? Or is the Why of this unimportant?†
I had a longer version of this story in which the old man’s suicide attempt was on the page. Because it was so atrocious, I am not sure I believe his reasons anymore. If I were a betting man, which I am, I would say the boy is closest to understanding the old man’s reasons.
What are you reading now? What have you read recently that really blew your hair back?
Right now I am reading In Praise of Athletic Beauty, by Hans Gumbrecht. He is a Stanford humanities professor who proves that finding beauty in sports and being serious within the humanities are not mutually exclusive — a cause near and dear to my heart. Other than that I keep coming back to Robert Walser’s short stories. Nothing quite blows my hair back like “Kleist in Thun” or “Radio.” Any book recommendations? Send them to me at dpmohr (at) gmail (dot) com! As for my own writing, when I find the time, I keep working at a strange collection of Sardinia stories.