Where did you get the idea for this story? What were you hoping to accomplish with it?
I was writing a long piece about Yves St Laurent, the French designer and a man who once smoked 150 cigarettes a day while drinking 30 to 35 Cokes. Every day. He did this for years. Wow. He had many mental illnesses, including insomnia. I was trying to write myself into that space.
For a reader, this is a rather difficult story to navigate, but it is well worth the effort. What can you tell us about the structure, especially of that last section?
The structure is meant to fall apart. Insomnia often appears as annoyance. Then it becomes serious and debilitating. Then it becomes insanity. I tried—in an attempt probably as unsuccessful as successful—to mimic that on the visual page.
“And then awake! Panting, prickly sweat. What was it? The moon; some moon, out there, halving.” The moon halving. That’s gorgeous, and my favorite line in the story. What is your favorite part?
My favorite part is trying to name this depressive insomnia. The character (like any human) embraces the illogic of owning something by naming it. Medical professionals, explorers with their maps, scientists, the military—they feel control if they can only place a name on something. This is a mirage. We can call Iraq a civil war, or not, but human beings are actually exploding. Right now. Depression may be a black dog, but labeling it a black dog is another fruitless attempt by the character to own it. However, as a writer, I enjoyed the section. I could just rattle on and run with words. I love words. Most writers do.
You teach at Ball State University. Where is that? What do you teach?
Ball State is in Muncie, IN. We have four things here: a great Thai restaurant, a running trail, a river, and a kick-ass bar named after Beowulf’s Heorot. It has a ton of beer, a real jewel.
I teach fiction, creative nonfiction. I’ll also teach anyone disc golf who wants to play an incredible sport.
Since this is my first issue with SLQ, I thought it’d be appropriate to discuss firsts. Writing firsts. First time you called yourself a writer, first publication, first check. Those sorts of things. So, dish. What is your most memorable writing first?
I never call myself a writer. That word has been hijacked. It’s like those people who go around telling everyone they are working on a screenplay. Please. The best writers I know personally don’t talk about being writers.
My first publication, as I remember, was in a little newsletter named Hard Row to Hoe. It was stapled together, read by maybe 3 people (including me), and was most likely stapled together in some dude’s basement. I have a strong feeling the guy’s name was John but I have no idea why.
My first check was from the Denver Post. I wrote an opinion column in the late 1990s. I think they gave me 50 bucks a column. I spent it mostly on nachos, my favorite food.
My most memorable writing first was winning the Crazyhorse Fiction Prize. The prize, that was fine. A great magazine, but a prize is just a prize, etc. BUT they gave me a thousand bucks! Yes! This was right after grad school and I stared at the check like it was the Holy Grail. I blew almost all of it immediately, on really good beer. Every time I sat down and drank the beer, my mind would reel with this incredible feeling: I wrote this beer into existence. I am drinking my words!!
That felt so awesome to me.