The story is told with a bonhomie that guides and nurtures the tale, breathing life into both the fantastic and mundane. How do you envision the teller of this tale, the narrative voice if given physical form?
As a bearded, bespectacled, slightly chubby, prematurely graying, white dude in his mid-thirties? No, actually I sort of pictured the narrator as a bit of an extension of the wet gentleman himself. He gets some satisfaction from the fear, uncertainty, and suffering of the characters in his story, and the wet gentleman’s victory is his victory. All that bonhomie is part of his shtick. He’s the kind to get you to buy him a drink in a way that makes you think he’s doing you a favor. That is, if you’d even approach the grinning, hawkish stranger wearing a frayed silk suit, and sitting at the end of the bar where all the lights have mysteriously gone out.
The story follows a wonderful cyclic pattern that lends itself well to the end of the tale. What sort of challenges were there in writing a story that did not follow a set, linear path?
In a way, this story was easier to write than a linear one. The format allowed me to write whichever scene seemed most obvious at any given moment in the process, then let that inform what happened in “earlier” scenes. I wrote the vignettes out of order, then wrote the connective tissue. When I’m writing a linear story, I really feel a compulsion to write in a linear manner. I should probably do something about that, because it can be really crippling at times.
You also seem to draw heavily on traditional faerie tales such as “The Frog Prince” and “The Princess and The Frog.” What inspired you to write a faerie tale of your own?
I didn’t really set out to write a faerie tale when I started this story. Honestly, it came out of listening to someone talk about his teenage church experiences. I don’t remember the details of the conversation (cool story, right?), but he was talking about how personal confessional stories would bend to the communal need for particular known outcomes . . . or something . . .
Anyway, I was thinking about stories with known outcomes, and lit on the Lassie story. We all know what happens when little Timmy gets near a well with his faithful dog, don’t we? That’s right, he winds up at the bottom of the well.
So I started with that line, “you must know how the story ends,” and just sort of slipped into the fairy-tale voice because it lends itself to delivering a story to an audience with a particular outcome in mind. Also, something about reading a story in that voice always makes me feel like I’m being screwed with, and that seemed like a really appropriate tone for this narrator. And, well, for faeries in general.
There is also a delightfully dark humor in the Wet Man’s interactions. Do you have a favorite author when it comes to reading such humor?
I find humor in all sorts of weird places. I think there’s great humor in books like The Mongolian Conspiracy, The Longships, Votan, Geek Love, Super Flat Times . . . I could go on and on. I’m always looking for the moment an author gets to a bleak, desperate place, then finds some little nugget of humor in language, voice, or story. But I love when it works the other way, too: Kelly Link and George Saunders can both start from a premise that seems comical and turn it into something heartbreaking.
Ambivalence is awesome: Twist the knife and make me smile.
You attended the Clarion workshop and have spoken highly of the program. How do you feel you benefited from the workshop?
Other than providing me with a community of established professionals and talented up-and-comers who I now call my friends, challenging me to produce more work in less time than I thought possible, providing an inspiring and encouraging atmosphere in which I was able to write my first two pro-sale stories, showing me that there’s a chance I can make money doing something I’m passionate about and giving me the confidence to pursue that possibility, teaching me valuable lessons about the industry and about myself, and sending me out into the world a more well-rounded writer than it found me?
Clarion does all that (and more) for a lot of people. For me, going in to Clarion I already had an MA and MFA in Creative Writing, which had taught me a lot of the most important rules of writing, and how to break those rules in interesting ways (well, I think they’re interesting). What Clarion did was teach me about conceiving much more active stories and plots, and about engaging a broader spectrum of readers.
I can feel an “MFA vs. New New York” thinkpiece coming on me, so I’m going to stop picking at it.
Given your range of publications in both fiction and non-fiction, what can readers expect from you next?
The next piece I have coming out is in an anthology titled A Book of Uncommon Prayer, which is being published by Outpost 19. My prayer is “For Those Perusing Souvenirs Sold in Gas Stations and Truck Stops.” As an atheist, I loved the idea of tackling the prayer form, and I’m super excited to be included in this book. It’s got a lot of great authors in it.
Other than that, I suppose people can expect more of the same. By which I mean, short-form pieces that tend towards the strange. I’m really trying to put together enough short stories of high enough quality to justify shopping a collection, so I guess we’ll see how that goes. I’ve got a novella I’m working on that’s cross-genre in a way Northrop Frye might approve of . . . you know, the usual.
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