Your stories are almost magical at times. Who are some of your favorite authors?
I have very conventional tastes, and I’m a sucker for anybody with a sense of humor. I especially like Kurt Vonnegut, Garrison Keillor, Annie Proulx and Don DeLillo (although I was disappointed by Cosmopolis). Among short story writers, Tobias Wolff amazes me.
Congratulations on winning the Sherwood Anderson Short Story contest. Could you tell us more about that experience, and the story that won?
It’s a small contest, limited to writers who have some tie to Smyth County, Virginia, where Anderson lived in his later years and edited the local newspaper. I was born there, so I entered and was fortunate enough to win. The story I submitted, Stray Dogs, is patched together from childhood memories of finding a litter of puppies under the house. I didn’t actually witness what happened to that litter (although the boy in the story does), but I knew what usually happened to unwanted puppies — they were put in a burlap sack and drowned in the creek. It sounds hideously cruel, but there were no government-operated euthanasia centers in the rural south of forty years ago. Drowning dogs (or dumping them by the side of the road) was just part of life on a farm, and I imagine it still happens today.
What short stories have haunted you over the years and why?
Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain,” Woody Allen’s “The Kugelmass Episode,” Annie Proulx’s “Half-Skinned Steer” and Chekhov’s “Misery”. All of these have particularly memorable final sentences. A great close can salvage a mediocre story; if I can come up with a final sentence that I really like for one of my own stories, I’m happy, no matter what schlock has gone before.
New literary journals are showing up almost daily online. How do you choose where to submit your work, and do you have any favorites?
I don’t have an organized approach to submissions. I’m quite hapless, in fact. I do try to match the style of the story to the aesthetic of the journal, but that’s just common sense. I have, on two occasions, written stories with particular journals in mind, and both stories somehow got published. But more often than not I just look for a journal that hasn’t published me before or rejected me too often.
I don’t really have a favorite journal; there are so many good ones. Unfortunately, good or not, too many have the lifespan of fruit flies.
Where do most of your characters come from?
Most of my characters are just me, shabbily repackaged with a new head of hair.