Wednesday Feb 08

PowellGaryV Gary V. Powell’s short stories and flash fiction have been widely published, both online and in print, most recently at Bartleby Snopes, Literary Orphans, Molotov Cocktail, Thrice Fiction, and Carvezine. He has work forthcoming at moonShine Review. Several of his stories have placed or been selected as finalists in national contests. His first novel, "Lucky Bastard," released in December 2012, is available through Main Street Rag Press


                                               Gary V. Powell interview with Meg Tuite

You capture that never ending mystique, excitement and horror of being a kid in these three flash stories, “Sunnyside, 1965,” “Shanty Town,” and “Swimmer.” What was your inspiration for these tales? Here are a few quotes:

“Snaking black and mean against a greenish sky, passing a mile to our south, the twister ripped a branch from our big willow and helicoptered shingles off our roof.”

“We played fast-pitch baseball in an empty lot, sandbags for bases, car headlights when the sun went down.”

“I kept my head down, riding hard, all fifteen years of my life so far propelling me like a tail wind into whatever came next.”

I suppose the inspiration for these pieces was my own childhood. None of these stories is autobiographical, per se, yet each piece is grounded in a memory of a place, a character, or an event. I am not a “prompt” writer, and freeze when given a prompt. I tend to draw on something that happened, or the way I felt about something that happened, and then I let the inner logic of the story take over. The inspiration for “Sunnyside, 1965,” in particular, was a deadly tornado outbreak that devastated a part of the Midwestern town where I grew up. The story stands on its own, and most of what’s there is fiction, but the tornadoes were all too real.

Where did you grow up and does place play an important role in your stories?

I grew up in Elkhart, Indiana, and have family that still lives in and around Elkhart. It was, and continues to be, a gritty, mostly blue-collar town. And, yes, place plays an important part in my work. Much of my short and flash fiction takes place in a fictional version of Elkhart. I feel comfortable in that setting and confident in my ability to tell the stories of the characters that reside there. Place anchors a story, defines parameters, and informs character. From time to time, I need to get away from Elkhart, and I also have stories set in Milwaukee, Chicago, Southern California, New Orleans, and Charlotte. As always, place is an overriding consideration. I can’t imagine setting what I think of as a Charlotte story in Elkhart—the characters of my Charlotte stories belong in Charlotte and the challenges they face are uniquely framed by that setting.

You’ve written a novel. How long did it take you to complete that and what was your process?

I worked on Lucky Bastard from the summer of 2008 until the summer of 2012. But before I began the novel, going back to as early as 2005, I’d written two short stories about the main characters, Jimmy and Harley. Lucky Bastard started as another short story about those characters, but soon evolved into something larger. Before writing Lucky Bastard, relying on my experience as a lawyer, I’d written legal text books and a couple of pretty awful legal thrillers, so I had a sense of the effort involved in writing a novel. For me, it meant getting into a rhythm. I wrote the novel like I write short stories, without an outline, discovering the work as it appeared on the computer screen. That took about two years. Then came the re-writes and tinkering, about another two years. It’s probably important to mention that during the time I worked on and polished the novel, I continued to write stories and flash. A novel is a grind, and I needed the sense of completion associated with the shorter pieces while working on the novel.

What is your favorite medium to work? Novel, short story, flash or poem?

I can’t say I have a favorite. I don’t really write poetry, so I can’t speak to that, but novels, stories, and flash pose unique challenges and opportunities. Writing a novel is as much about determination and temperament as it is about soul, vision, and craft. I’ve heard it said that shorter works, while not requiring as much time and effort as novels, demand greater attention to craft—the idea being that the shorter the piece the more important it is that each word, each element, carries its own weight and more. I’m not sure I agree, because a novel, to be the best it can be, also needs to have every word and element working overtime. Having said that, I believe I’m a better novelist for having written short stories, and a better novelist and short story writer for having written flash. Writing flash underscores the importance of word choice and selection of detail. I try to bring that same laser focus to my novels.

I like that, Gary. It makes sense that each medium we work on only strengthens the others. What are you working on now?

I’m working on a new novel, tentatively entitled “Whole Life.” It’s set in a large life insurance agency in Chicago in 1988. I like to say that there’s a lot of testosterone, drugs, and sex, but I hope it’s about more than just that. Also, at any given point in time, I’ve got a short story and several flash pieces in progress. Finally, a new project is to self-publish on Kindle and in hardcopy short anthologies of previously-published stories and flash in combination with new work. My first effort, Speedos, Tattoos, and Felons just went up on Kindle. It includes my two previously-published stories about my Lucky Bastard characters, Jimmy and Harley, along with a new story that’s never seen the light of day. I’m excited about getting these mini-anthologies out and into the hands of readers.

I look forward to reading those. Who are your most important influences as a writer?

Literary influences include John Gardner, Raymond Carver, Tobias Wolff, and Richard Ford among others. But I’m not an academic, so probably unlike someone with an MFA I’m not consciously aware of these literary influences when I write. My greatest influences are non-literary. Family, friends, and acquaintances are all fair game. I like to “fictionalize,” them and imagine relationships and predicaments for them to work through. For me, everything begins with character and everything else serves that.

What are you reading now?

At this moment, I’m guiltily enjoying an unauthorized biography of Dennis Hopper and John Grisham’s latest legal thriller. But recently I read Bud Smith’s Tollbooth, Donald Ray Pollack’s Knockemstiff, and Bill Cheng’s Southern Cross the Dog.

I really enjoyed Bud Smith’s novel, “Tollbooth.”

Give me a quote that speaks to you. That propels you forward.

“If there is good to be said, the writer should say it. If there is bad to be said, he should say it in a way that reflects the truth that, though we see the evil, we choose to continue among the living.” John Gardner, The Art of Fiction, Notes on Craft for Young Writers.

Beautiful! Thank you so much, Gary, for sending Connotation Press some of your exceptional work!

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