As part of my Short Story Summer Challenge (1 December 2012 – 28 February 2013) I will be reviewing short story collections and where possible bringing you interviews with the authors of those collections.
The first short story author I’d like to welcome is A S Patric, to talk about his most recently published collection Las Vegas for Vegans.
Read my review of Las Vegas for Vegans.
A S Patrić is the winner of the 2011 Ned Kelly Short Story Award and the 2011 Booranga Short Story Prize. His debut book, The Rattler & other stories, was published to wide acclaim in 2011. Best Australian Stories 2010 featured his work and he has also been published in The Sydney Morning Herald, Meanjin, Overland, Southerly, Quadrant and many other literary journals. Alec is also a bookseller living in bayside Melbourne with his wife and two daughters.
BL: Welcome Alec. One of my favourite titles in Las Vegas for Vegans was ‘The River’. Where did your inspiration come from for that piece?
Alec: Asking about inspiration is similar to asking about the motive for murder. It’d make for a boring story if there was only one reason to kill. Usually there’s a whole series of events, a context and a little psychological exploration that makes the whole thing worth writing or reading. ‘The River’ did indeed have a clear motive. I read The Trial by Kafka two decades ago and have by now practically forgotten most of it, yet there’s a part of the novel that remains vividly alive in my mind. It’s called ‘Before the Law’, a parable that Kafka published in a literary journal in 1915 and later included in the The Trial. When I started writing ‘The River’, the 1885 painting by Georges Seurat, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte became another inspiration — in mood and tone. The psychological element was the myth of Jonah and the whale. It’s one of those stories you hear as a child. It can resurface suddenly when writing a story like ‘The River’. The idea that we get swallowed up whole, still fascinates me. If we go back to the analogy of murder, the question is what makes someone kill. Isn’t it often an all consuming idea or feeling? For a while they ride in the belly of a leviathan. More often than not it spits them out, and they find themselves on trial, wondering how it all got out of hand. There are other ways we get swallowed whole. Sometimes the leviathan is a story.
BL: Music and specific references to songs and artists feature throughout the collection. Do you have a musical background?
Alec: Music isn’t always about the music. An album like The River by Bruce Springsteen was a literary experience more than it was a musical one for me when I was young. It was a collection of stories of the order of Dubliners by James Joyce — except far more relevant and accessible to me and my neighbourhood. There’s a lot of music in my story, ‘Beckett & Son’, but again, it’s not always about the music. Devon Beckett is a young man who finds a place to bury himself in his music. When he comes out of his hole he’s using music as a carapace to protect himself from the overwhelming noise of the world.
In ‘nothing to do with anything’ the music is central, yet it’s not pleasant. It’s part of a flood of information that we deal with daily—the radio, television, internet, mobile calls, texts, twitter updates, advertising billboards, graffiti, newspapers and magazines, etc, etc. and my character in that story is desperately searching for something that feels relevant to her.
My musical background is fingerstyle guitar and I’ve always loved music purely for the music, as much the meaning it might have for me. It’s one of the few easy joys in life. I’m often just sharing my joys in a book as much as turning them inside out.
BL: Your piece ‘The Professional Mourners’ almost had me in tears while reading. Was that a difficult piece to write?
Alec: I’ll confess to being one of those men that don’t cry. It’s not a macho thing. To be able to find that kind of simple release would be great. Part of writing is finding a way to get at difficult emotions or memories. And I do cry when working on stories like ‘The Professional Mourners’. Some stories make me laugh. Others are angry. All of them make me feel something impossible to get at any other way.
BL: Being a city-worker myself I thought ‘Guns N’ Coffee’ was hilarious. Are you a coffee addict?
Alec: I used to be. I’ve been on the wagon for years.
BL: Do you have a favourite piece within Las Vegas for Vegans, or are you like a parent that’s not allowed to have favourites?
Alec: I love finding out which story a reader most loves in Las Vegas for Vegans. Working in a bookstore I have readers that come back into the store after buying it to let me know what they thought of the book. Their favourites are rarely the same stories (I haven’t had a reader mention ‘The River’ before, for instance). It’d be less pleasant if they kept picking out one to the exclusion of the others. So there’s definitely that daddy thing going on. They’re all close to my heart and I hope they all step out into the world and find someone to love them each as much as I do.
BL: You mention that you are a bookseller by day – which book have you recommended most this year?
Alec: The book I’ve recommended most is the best book I’ve read this year: Every Love Story is a Ghost Story by D.T. Max. It’s the first David Foster Wallace bio. What’s odd is that I don’t read biographies, and while his essays are often works of pure genius, I dislike most of Wallace’s fiction. So I’m not a DFW fan and yet the book is propulsive, profound, and a deeply felt portrait of a writer who (whether you love him or not) lived at the very epicentre of modern literature.