Steve’s story, “Going Home,” is featured in our first issue and he was kind enough to answer some of our questions about his work and writing habits. You can read more of Steve’s work at his blog https://stevesofgrass.wordpress.com/ or find him on Twitter @SteveWerkmyster. Steve’s first poetry collection, The Unauthorized Autobiography: Composed of Fragments, Distortions, Mythologies & Lies, will be published with PunksWritePoemsPress later this year.
What is your favorite place to write in/at?
I tend to work at the kitchen table (I teach online), so that’s where I write, too. It kind of depends on genre, but I’ll usually write first drafts of poems with pen and paper, and prose just straight on the laptop. The table is close to the back door, and we have a couple dogs that are constantly going in and out. I also spend an embarrassing number of hours each week staring at the birds, the squirrels, tree branches moving in the wind, leaves giving up the ghost. I kind of have to be alone, too, so I’ll write before the kids get up or after everyone else goes to school or work. I talk out loud when I write, sometimes, trying to find how the words fit together or just cussing at the screen. I’m almost, but not quite, old enough to get away with that in public, so it’s probably best I stay home.
We were so excited when we received this story in our inbox. The voice just caught us and wouldn’t let us go. How do you tend to find the voices of your stories and, specifically, how did this one come to you?
I don’t know. That’s not a dodge. For the most part, I think I steal voices. “Going Home” is the last of a seven-story cycle (it was the fifth one written), and reading through those stories, I can hear a steady stream of samples from Tim O’Brien, Junot Diaz, Bret Easton Ellis, Denis Johnson, maybe bits of Atwood or Flannery O’Connor on good days. Shakespeare and Chaucer pop in once in a while, and it’s obvious I’ve listened to a lot of Tom Waits over the past couple decades. I’ve described my writing as postmodern lite. I don’t even pretend to originality.
For this particular story, I first heard the voice while in the car line outside my son’s elementary one afternoon back in December, waiting for him to come out. I had a vague idea of the set up, the narrator and his uncle driving home, but I was frustrated and just messing around on my phone, waiting for my kid, and all of a sudden it was there in my ear, those first couple paragraphs–a guy coming apart and getting stuck on semantics. He wants to get it right, but he can’t even get the first sentence down. He was like a living stutter. I was actually in the minivan, by myself, talking the beginning out loud, windows down, little kids and their parents scurrying by and giving me side glances. I started typing as soon as we got home.
The ending of this story just wrecked us and we thought it was beautifully put together on the language level of the story. Did you know the story was going to end this way when you first started writing it or did it surprise you?
I wasn’t sure; I really just started with a voice in a truck. I was ready to just leave it open, the truck kind of pushing off and getting enveloped by dark. There’s a part in the story where Derek is thinking about driving in the dark, how it’s an act of trust and maybe we’re just carving the road out of nothingness as we go along, and I thought that was going to be the ending, but then it just kept going. Another possibility was getting to his sister’s, his boxes piled up in the driveway, just sitting there smoking cigarettes as the dawn shoos away night, but it seemed like he was too far gone for that. I needed something that would work not only as the ending to the story, but also the ending to the cycle, and I finally realized I wanted a sure ending (postmodernism be damned!), so it was easier after that.
If you could spend one day as any plant, animal, or non-human organism, what would you be?
That’s tough. I talk a lot, even to myself or the dogs. Actually, a lot of times, I don’t even talk. I’ll just make random noises. So something like a dolphin would make sense. On the other hand, I don’t know if I’ve seen anything taken with such joyous rapture as our dog Lucy fetching a ball, and it would be nice to experience something so uncomplicated and pure. When it comes down to it, though, I would choose to be a wolf. It’s the total package–beauty and blood, confidence and shadow. I would love to spend a day exploring the darker parts of the forest as a wolf.