Gary M. Almeter, author of The Emperor of Ice-Cream (March 2019) sat down with our team to talk books, life, and writing. Here's what went down:
If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
In light of the fact the title of this book came from Wallace Stevens, I would likely choose Wallace Stevens. To say thanks. He was interesting - he was a vice president for an insurance company while also writing some of the most whimsical poems I have read. The idea of him walking to work in a grey flannel suit while his mind was celebrating the power of imagination is intriguing to me.
I would definitely serve ice cream, if not for dinner then definitely for dessert. We have an ice cream maker so I would try to make something interesting.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
Sometimes I write something down and I’m having fun doing it and I am loving it but then I stop and say to myself “wait - there’s no narrative arc here; there’s no metaphors; there’s no character development and there’s no cogent point of view here” and then I fear that what I am writing is no good. So I guess my fear is that what I am writing is no good. Fun but no good. But then I consider the alternative - having a great idea or at least an idea compelling enough to make me want to write it down and explore what it is - but not doing so because of the protocols and procedures for how to write it down are too intimidating. That is not good. While it’s good to wonder about voice, point of view, tone, length, format etc., you can wonder about it later.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
Hanging out with Ottessa Moshfegh’s Eileen would certainly never be boring. Especially if we got to hang out in Newton, MA during the mid 1960s. I am also rather sweet on Buffalo area native Joyce Carol Oates. She is so dainty and yet curses with such aplomb. I picture a date with her would include daintily eating Buffalo chicken wings while she describes in detail the process by which the chickens are slaughtered.
What books are on your nightstand?
I have a stack. I have lots of books of essays and lots of books of short stories and lots of humor books. This is so I can start and stop with some ease. I read novels and memoirs in the armchair of our family room. I usually have about five or six books from the library on the table next to it. The reserve system at the Baltimore County Public Library is incredible. You literally just touch a button on your computer and then you get an email letting you know when your book is ready.
Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?
I get many ideas just from taking walks. That’s when I can let my mind wander as I recount my day and the oddities therein. Most of the time, these thoughts are fleeting but everyone once in a while, one stays in my head and doesn’t go away and I realize there is something there. Obviously this book came from memories of childhood. I started writing about the headband I wore while running the 2013 Boston Marathon - a headband made from Grandpa’s bandana handkerchiefs - and how the smell of Grandpa’s basement seeped down my face as I ran. I just wanted to remember what that smelled like and then how the smell comforted me after the bombs exploded and then memories of Grandpa’s bandanas prompted memories of worms and roller skating and lemonade and Sha Na Na and hay bales and the swimming pool and the 4th of July and 84,000 words later here we are.
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
Definitely the semicolon. It is both a stop and a start; a chance to pause and digest what you just read while readying yourself for what you are about to read.
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
I read everything that was assigned to me in high school. We read a disproportionate number of war books: All Quiet on the Western Front, Heart of Darkness, Johnny Got His Gun and Catch 22. I have never read Moby Dick.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
All the pints of Ben & Jerry’s. And Grandpa’s bandana
Why do you write? The first 5 words that come to mind. Go.
Fun, compulsion, identity, authenticity, challenge.
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
Someone said to me once, “I don’t think you know how good you are.” I would write that for aspiring writers.