In your story “Alarms,” you make a heavy use of lists. What was the inspiration? Are you a list-maker?
No, I usually don’t make lists. When I do make one, I lose it in about five minutes. The inspiration for the list making comes from Brenda, my wife. She does indeed carry around several notebooks of lists in her purse. Some are to-do lists, some are directions, some are rather random thoughts.
My favorite list making experience came while we were living in Germany. We had to leave out of the Frankfurt Airport for the States the next day and Brenda wasn’t convinced I would be able to get us to the airport without getting lost. By the way, I was a navigator in the Air Force at the time. Anyways, we drove over fifty miles to the Frankfurt Airport while Brenda wrote down every turn in her book of lists. Then we turned around and came home so we could do it all again the next morning.
Your character wishes she had superpowers. Are you a comic book fan? Any secret superpowers you care to divulge?
I was raised on comic books, and you can see the ones I like most by what I mention in the story. For years I collected Spider-Man, Thor, Iron Man, Daredevil and X-Men comics. Unfortunately, I lost most of them in a military move. Such is the hazard of moving every few years. I still occasionally hit the comic book store down the road and buy a few.
My superpower? I think one of my favorite things about “Alarms” is that Cara doesn’t even recognize her superpower when she gets it. That may be the way with all of us. We may have superpowers we don’t even recognize as such.
Oh, and of course I can bend teaspoons with my mind by concentrating on old episodes of The Brady Bunch.
You make several references to Kafka, but also to Walmart and Gamestop. Was this a conscious decision?
Kafka, Walmart, Superheroes, Gamestop. Why not? Many things about Cara are based on me, so I included those things that are a part of my life. Life frequently seems to me to be mundane, exciting, and absurd all at the same time. I think Walmart, Kafka, Gamestop and superheroes capture that pretty well.
This story is very quirky, voice-driven. What came first, the story idea or the voice? Is voice something that is important to you as a writer?
Quirky? I love quirky. Ask the students in the Advanced Placement English Language class I teach. I think I’ve mastered quirky.
But, yes, getting the right voice is critical to me. I’ve had the idea for a story about someone who sets off alarms for several years now. But the story turned out quite different from what I had imagined. I originally started the story with Jimmy as the main character. I saw him being forced to leave society and find a place where there are no alarms. I pictured him at the end of the story as a hermit unable to interact with society. While I was working on the first draft Jimmy had a scene with his girlfriend, Cara. I liked Cara so much I made her the main character, gave her the curse of setting off alarms, and let her voice come out.
Was this a difficult story to write?
Once I made Cara the central character, it was an easy story to write. Her mind works quickly and she makes random associations that are fun to follow. As with all my stories, it took me quite a few drafts to get it right, but Cara was a fun character to work with.
You are a recent graduate of Clarion West, a retired officer of the Air Force, and a high school English teacher. How does all this influence your writing?
I’ve been very fortunate. I’ve spent my life doing things I wanted to do.
I was in the Air Force for twenty-six years, and have drawn on my military experience to develop characters in three of my short stories. However, I have dealt directly with my military experience in only one story and it isn’t published yet. The further I get away from the military, the more I find myself being drawn back to it for story ideas.
I love teaching and had the opportunity to teach English at the United States Air Force Academy for four years. When I retired from the military, I figured I would go back to doing something I love to do, so now I teach English at Granby High School in Norfolk, Virginia.
Attending Clarion West was a wonderful experience. The program is superbly run. I am very grateful to Neile Graham, Leslie Howle and the many other people who dedicated so much of their time to make it such a powerful experience. My fellow students were absolutely amazing, and I actually met a few people as quirky as me. I loved it and miss all my CW 2011 classmates very much.
What other work do you have coming down the pipeline? Anything else you’d like to mention?
I’m currently sending out a couple of stories I wrote at Clarion West. I’m trying to get a story published called “Pirates” about Brenda’s surgery for melanoma a few years back. I haven’t sold it yet but I’ve gotten several effusive rejections. I’ve also finished a work called “Remembering Verdun” about my deployment to Bosnia in 1995. I would like to see that one published, but I fear it’s so personal it may never make it into print. If anyone would like to publish either of them just email me at [email protected]
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