“Always Present, Always Watching” is a story so beautifully told. It holds so many fabulous sentences:
Tony, how do you find your words? What is your process? What is your approach to craft?
I keep telling myself to pay attention. Sometimes I do. I walk often in my little town and I keep my senses open. I listen, and I see and experience things. If I’m doing it right, my mind is open, too, though I try to remember Ferlinghetti, who wrote: “I hope I at least have an open mind, but a mind not so open that the brains fall out.”
When I start, I often don’t know whether I’m writing a story or a poem. Usually, it winds up as a story, but not always. The actual writing process is far from intentional. I do not “write every morning” or “every” anytime. Would that it were otherwise, but it isn’t. I write when I’m on retreat, or on the road, or in my favorite café – and I do have many favorite cafés.
What do you look for in a sentence?
I’ve never been a musician. In fact, a friend described me as “not ‘a-rhythmic,'” as I had claimed/confessed, but "pre-rhythmic.” In my story “Hunger,” the narrator lives with a guitar player and a sax player, and he tells us “I played the stereo.” Still, I look/listen for the sound, for the beat. But as my writing mentor Amber Dermont preaches, even if it might be a beautiful, or clever, or a fun sentence: “does it serve the story?”
Do you rewrite your sentences over and over again or do they come out fairly finished in a first draft?
I’ve played with some stories for years and I’m always tinkering. I never leave home without a tiny notebook in one pocket and two pens in the other. I also get huge support from a writers’ group I’ve been in since early 2012.
Tell us about your writing group. How did all of you meet? How structured is it? Why does it work?
I was at a bookstore to hear Luis Alberto Urrea read. He inspires me greatly, as a writer and as a real person; wait, are those separate things? Before he arrived, I got to talking with an extraordinary local writer (non-fiction) named Kalpana Mohan, and she suggested I might fit in well with a group she'd been in for years. It proved to be the case. People emphasize craft and detail, plus kind, respectful and honest readings and critiques.
In “Always Present, Always Watching” Kenny “thought about girls with each in-breath but he hadn’t known exactly who or what he was looking for until he stared into her face.” Did you ever have an experience like this as a teen?
It’s been a few years since I was a teen. I think I actually made up Kenny’s experience – sometimes the fiction writer writes fiction -- though that he “thought about girls with each in-breath” sounds vaguely familiar.
What were you like as a teenager? Was it easy for you to make friends?
I wanted to be liked. I definitely had some good friends but I was always worrying about being liked, and that, regrettably, has not changed.
Tell us more about what you were like as a teenager. Is there any real life story you can share with us?
I saw the Doors and the Dead outside, and the Stones and Janis Joplin inside. Quicksilver Messenger Service played at my Junior Prom – in the gym.
What sort of reading did you do as a teenager?
One pivotal book was Kerouac’s On the Road. I read it the summer I was turning seventeen. Almost immediately a friend and I hitchhiked from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The next summer we hitched from San Francisco to New York.
Tell us about those trips!
Crossing the U.S, we saw the inside of four police cars (two in Nevada, one in Kansas, one in Indiana) and visited – not by choice – one police station, but they let us go every time. Strange days. Those trips, plus a couple of similar treks taken in VW vans, helped me become whoever it is I am today. I’ve also written several decent stories and a few poems that come directly from those journeys.
I understand you have a collection coming out soon. When? Who’s publishing it? What might we expect to find inside the pages of this book?
Yes, Big Table Publishing is the culprit. The collection is called “Crossing the Lines” and it should be in print in early 2016. A good friend recently told me “all your stories are love stories” and another said “your characters are generally good people who are confused about something.” They might be right but I’m going to have to read the whole thing to make up my own mind. Many of the stories have appeared in print or online and “Always Present, Always Watching” is part of the collection.
How did you find your publisher?
Kids, don’t try this at home, but she found me! Boston Literary Magazine has published a few of my stories. Several years ago Robin Stratton (it is her magazine and her publishing company) told me something like: “If you ever want to do a collection, let me know.” A few years later she said it again and I realized she actually meant it.
What are your goals in publishing this collection?
I read fiction for pleasure but also to learn about myself and about the world, and perhaps I can offer something like that for other people. That, and the obligatory fleet of yachts, and/or a small Hawaiian island of my own, because, well, the money will be rolling in, and I’ll have to do something with it.
Thank you so much, Tony! Don’t forget your friends at Connotation Press when you’re kickin’ it on your own private island!