Friday, March 20, 2009
Special Guest - George Singleton
Our very special guest today is George Singleton, author of Novel, Work Shirts for Madmen, These People Are Us, The Half-Mammals of Dixie, Why Dogs Chase Cars and Drowning in Gruel. George has also had a slew of short stories and nonfiction articles to appear in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s Playboy, Zoetrope, The Georgia Review, Shenandoah, Southern Review, Kenyon Review, Glimmer Train, North American Review, Fiction International, Epoch, Esquire.com, New England Review, Carolina Quarterly, Greensboro Review, Arkansas Review and American Literary Review, to name only a few. In his "spare" time, George teaches high school and college students. Given that he's able to accomplish all this, I wonder if he can also leap tall buildings in a single bound. . . .
We here at Fatal Foodies are delighted to welcome George into our little cyber kitchen as a stop on his WOW! Women-on-Writing blog tour. George has the honor of being the first man to be featured in a WOW! blog tour. Please enjoy his interview as much as I did.
Gayle: Wow, are you ever prolific! Which do you find more difficult to write, novels or short stories? (I read in a previous interview where you compared novel writing to walking across a bridge as opposed to short story writing as walking across a tightrope. I'd like for you to expound on that please.)
George: I find novels to be more difficult only because I tend to be impatient. It’s hard to get a good month of writing done, then think, "Gee, only 300 pages to go." It’s kind of like running a marathon and knowing that there are no water stations along the way. If I wrote short stories back-to-back for a year, I’d write the same amount of pages, but know that there’d be a slight rest, or change of scenery along the way.
Gayle: You lived in California when you were young, and now you're living in the Carolinas. What, if any, bearing do you think an author's location has on his writing?
George: Of course there are writers who jump all over the world from one book to the next. I can’t do it. I stick to the Carolinas, mostly, because I’d feel like a fraud trying to set a story or novel in, say, France. Or Florida. I don’t know about everyone else, but I feel enough like a fraud whenever I have to say, “I’m a writer.” A writer’s physical location while writing, it seems to me, will seep into stories because all of the raw ingredients are there for the picking. It’s the same reason why crab dishes come out of the Chesapeake area, and salmon from the northwest, et cetera.
Gayle: "Toddlers - and drunks - bang around hitting walls, tables, chairs, the floor, and other people, trying to find their legs. Writing fiction is a similar process." I love this quote! You speak of developing "writer reflexes." How do we develop these reflexes and learn to trust our instincts as writers?
George: I would think that reading a ton of contemporary work helps. Trial and error seems to be the only answer for me, though. Wait—trial and error and error and error and error…
Gayle (laughing): I'm with you there! You mention that book signings and events make you nervous. That surprises me since you're a teacher. How do book events differ from teaching high school and college students?
George: I guess they’re the same in a way. At readings, there’s usually somebody glaring at me, and in class that happens, too. At readings, a person might come up later and say, “I love your work, and I’ll think you’ll love mine, too,” and heave a 400 pages manuscript up on the table. Students that I don’t even teach have been known to drop off their work. Writers, somehow, cause some people to think every writer out there can’t wait to spend a week or two reading unpublished manuscripts. Who goes to a doctor and says, “Hey, you work in an emergency room—look at how I stitched myself up,” or “Hey, I’ve always been interested in medicine, too—will you teach me how to knee surgery?” I don’t get it.
Gayle: You mention a book's "taste sensations." In keeping with the theme of our blog, what are some of the foods you've used in your stories to bring a scene to life for your reader?
George: Unfortunately, most of my taste sensations involve booze. Vienna sausages seem to show up often, as do Little Debbies oatmeal pies. I had an essay in Best Food Writing 2005, but it was about hangover cures, and I wouldn’t really want anyone to mix up jalapenos, pickle relish, mustard, mayonnaise, and Vienna sausages to spread on saltine crackers, though it’s good good good.
Gayle: Well, George, I have to admit that my first thought about the hangover cure would be, "Would the violent upset stomach really make you forget about your hangover?" But, I have to admit, those Little Debbie oatmeal pies are yummy! Ever tried one topped with peanut butter? Oh, yeah. [And, yes, it's possible that somewhere down the line I'm related to Elvis.]
George, it has been a pleasure having you here. Now, to all you blog readers, you need to visit George's site and check out all his books. If you're a writer, you especially need to look into this one: Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds. The back cover blurb says, "In Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds, acclaimed Southern story writer and novelist George Singleton serves up everything you ever need to know to become a real writer (meaning one who actually writes), in bite-sized aphorisms. It’s Nietzsche’s Beyond Good & Evil meets Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s cough syrup that tastes like chocolate cake. In other words, don’t expect to get better unless you get a good dose of it, maybe two. Accompanied by more than fifty original, full-color illustrations by novelist Daniel Wallace, these laugh-out-loud funny, candid, and surprisingly useful lessons will help you find your own writerly balance so you can continue to move forward."
Does it get any better than that? Only if you read it while eating a Little Debbie's Oatmeal Creme Pie (with a spoonful of peanut butter). ;-)