If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
I’d prepare a steaming bowl of Cream of Wheat for Joyce Carol Oates and pray that she wasn’t gluten intolerant.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
While I appreciate this question, I must point out that writing isn’t really very scary. Think about construction workers bolting steel girders together at forty stories up; or guys who drive big rigs through mountain passes in winter; or farmers operating machinery with blades and flying belts, pulleys, and chains; and dozens of other occupations where you could literarally die from one careless slip. When I write I sit in a recliner with a laptop. I do experience apprehension sometimes about what others may think of me as a result of reading my words. Will they perceive me as sick and twisted because some of my characters are? What about family members, especially those that are traditionally religious? Will they worry about my soul? What about my writer friends and acquaintances? Will they laugh at my ineptitude? I worry a little about these things, but I’ve always been, at least so far, able to regard these concerns as fluttering inconveniences—doubts that arise when we try to do something that exposes us to criticism—and brush them away like gnats.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
Tess in Hardy’s novel is beautiful, provocative, and complex; and I especially like Natassja Kinski’s portrayal in the 1979 Roman Polanski film. I would also love to protect Mattie Silver from that elm tree in Ethan Frome. I’d buy her a whole bunch of red ribbons and get her away from bitchy Zeena and that hell hole, Starkfield.
What books are on your nightstand?
Nights I Dreamed of Hubert Humphrey by Daniel Mueller, What the Zhang Boys Knew by Clifford Garstang, Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout, Sea Glass by Anita Shreve, and I just added Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy.
Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?
During the course of a typical day we are often too preoccupied with tending to the problems at hand to recognize the sources of inspiration that vibrate and hum around us. Sometimes I try to stop thinking in order to simply observe. Bits of overheard conversation, a fluttering leaf, swirling water, a gliding hawk, wafting fragrances of food vendors, the colors of springtime, or the desolation of winter’s bare branches can become seeds for an entire story or suggest the missing details needed to flesh out an ongoing project.
Accessing the subconcious is also important. I try to cultivate the hypnagogic state, that alternate world between wakefulness and deep sleep when images pop in unbidden. Many artists and inventors have found ways to access this wellspring of ideas. There are books and many articles available on the subject.
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
The period is my favorite because it’s unambiguous. Always.
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
Little Women. Can you believe it used to be required? Maybe it’s a wonderful book. I don’t know because I still haven’t read it.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
My stained coffee mug that I purchased from the Queens University of Charlotte bookstore.
Why do you write? The first 5 words that come to mind. Go.
Making stuff up is fun.
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
“Turn away from the mirror and project yourself outward so that you become a photographic negative of the world.” —Ron Yates
Preorder: Ben Stempton's Boy by Ron Yates
The year is 1972, and Randy Walls is fresh out of the foster care system. Haunted by memories of sexual abuse, he hitchhikes from Pittsburgh to rural Georgia in search of a blood relation. His quest for family is fulfilled in unexpected ways after he makes a deal with Ben Stempton, a grizzled old pulp-wooder. Through events that follow, Randy experiences culture shock, hard labor, funerals, friendship, extramarital sex, and jealousy.
When old man Stempton dies in a gruesome accident, Randy shoulders the burden of the man’s business for the sake of his wife and daughter. Episodes unfold, and Randy finds himself holding a baby. Little Benji’s mother is Ben Stempton’s daughter, Stacy. Unfortunately, she is married to Randy’s rival, an abusive redneck named Ty. More tragedy follows, resulting in Stacy’s emotional breakdown.
By this time Randy has grown close to his work partner Buster, a light-skinned black youth of uncertain parentage who anchors and guides him. These two plus Benji form an unlikely trio, struggling against vines from the past and present that are as constricting as kudzu—twisted stalks sprouting from society’s soil, Ben Stempton’s grave, and their own personal histories. Breaking free will require drastic measures and the formation of new bonds rooted in love.
Publication Date:October 8, 2019
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