From where did these details arise—the shotgun house? the abandoned hotdog factory? Historic Butchertown?
They arose from a mental repositioning of hometown geography. I grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and if one were go to downtown Louisville and head east towards the suburbs they’d actually find a neighborhood called Historic Butchertown. They’d also find plenty of shotgun houses loaded with artists and musicians because the rent’s cheap in those parts. However, what the theoretical traveler wouldn’t find in Historic Butchertown is an abandoned hotdog factory. No, that place is off in another neighborhood, down closer to the river, and it’s no longer abandoned. It’s now enjoying a second life as an art co-op/brew-and-view/reception hall. In fact, I attended a friend’s wedding there last September. It was a nice time.
t begins with that “twenty-year plan busted after four-and-a-half.” The best laid plans… What is it in this world that dooms plans?
I think in this case it’s the thing itself: The Plan doomed The Planner. I suppose The Planner’s original plan just wasn’t original enough. It was a bad plan. The same goes for most of his subsequent plans (moving to Payne Street, attempting suicide, leveling with his wife’s new lover). These are worse plans. In the end, The Planner must learn to stop planning, start improvising. Buy a package of light bulbs, get his life out of storage. Begin moving forward unscripted.
“A solitary star hung in the sky like a bad movie review.” Wow, do I love that. I’ve read hundreds and hundreds of descriptions of stars, but nothing like this one. How did you arrive at this simile?
It was a combination of patience and luck. In an early draft the line read: “The full moon hung in the sky like a lone testicle.” Which is an absolutely unremarkable line. It worked only as a placeholder. I knew it had to be changed. Later, when I was revising the piece, I got stuck on that line and looked out my own window, saw a couple stars in the Southern California sky. This got me thinking about the song “California Stars”, which eventually got me thinking about the other kind of California stars: actors, which got me thinking about movies, how so many of them are bad these days. Then I thought: movie reviews = stars, and along came the line.
Clearly, you were inspired, at least in creating the title, by Liz Phair’s EXILE IN GUYVILLE. What else beside the title comes from that classic album? Or maybe it was the Stones?
Yes, the title is a rock n roll title. Certainly part of a lineage. I stole it from my friend Scott Carney. He’s the singer for a terrific band called Wax Fang. He’d been attempting to write a song called Exile on Payne Street for some time. But for one reason or another the song was never finished, eventually got scrapped, and I said, “That’s a great title. I’m going to steal it.” And Scott said, “Fine. Fine. I’m not using it.” I only relay this story to get a plug in for Wax Fang. If you haven’t discovered them, you should. La La Land is a masterpiece.
By the by, EXILE ON MAIN STREET is one of my favorite records, but I don’t think the story borrows much from the record.
Tell us all you can about your MFA experience, both highs and lows.
My MFA experience has been golden. The program has been extremely kind to me. It’s a small but diverse community of fiction writers here at U.C. Irvine, nothing homogenous. There is no mold. Nothing prescriptive. Everyone brings something different to the table and the work is evaluated on its own terms. I came to Irvine after an unrelenting series of menial jobs with the hopes of finding the time to write. I’ve found the time to write and I also found that I love teaching. This has certainly been one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. It’s a damn shame it’s 2/3’s over.