Tuesday, February 9, 2016

My Interview with David Atkinson, Part One

Are you getting enough oxygen?
I recently had the opportunity to do something I hope to do more of on this blog--interview a really great writer. David Atkinson will be releasing his book Not Quite So Stories on March 1st via Literay Wanderlust--when I pre-ordered it on Amazon, they inadvertently sent it 3 months early, and I can tell you without hesitation that it is fantastic. 

So it was awesome to be able to talk to him about the book. But rather than go the typical route of "why did you decide to write this book" and so forth (not that there's anything wrong with that), we decided to veer left, with me doing my best Space Ghost impression, while Dave did his best, um, Space Ghost's guest impression. Hopefully you find it entertaining!

Jeremy: Ignoring the fact that you have published two other books, Not Quite So Stories is your first book. What made you feel like a short story collection was the way to go right now?

David: The hypnogerms are the most likely explanation. I never should have eaten those ribs after that Gatlin Brothers concert in Branson. It's either that or the fact that this one is a short story collection. It being what it is, I kind of had to go with that. Trying to con people into thinking it was a novel would probably get me into trouble again. Besides, after doing a novel in story form and a novel, why not complete the circuit? Actually, I started work on the stories in here before the other two books had come together. It only came together and found a home after, so the timing is kind of coincidence. Or…is it? 

Jeremy: There are a number of stories in here—I’m too lazy to count so let’s say 23. Out of those 23, if people could only read 1, which story would that be?

David: "G-Men." That's the first story in the collection, all about the Skydiving Security Administration screening jumpers during freefall to keep us all safe. That's what you mean by "only read 1," right?

Jeremy: Yes, that is correct. Smart idea starting with your favorite story first. I've always thought it was better for a book to start horribly and get better so that by the end, you think you've read something decent, but there could be merits to your approach.

Now obviously the title was influenced by Kipling’s Just So Stories. Any fear of a backlash when people see that there aren’t any stories about how a penguin got its spots?

David: What do you mean? They're ALL about that. That's all any story is about, just like Great Expectations.

Jeremy: I felt like there was an undercurrent of bias against dead people in the book—you seem to take a hard stand against them haunting dreams, frown upon them renting apartments, and I am sure there is more in the subtext. Was this intentional?

David: I think that's a bias of the characters as opposed to the book itself. "Dreams of Dead Grandpa" wouldn't be much of a story if the Grandpa wasn't haunting the characters dreams, and similar but obviously different regarding apartment rentals to the deceased in "Turndown Service." Since it's a pivotal story element in those tales, I'd say the book was actually in favor of dead people doing those things, opinions of the relevant characters notwithstanding. Though, as a living person I have to acknowledge that I probably have a bias towards being alive and that could color how I see the world.

David sees dead people--and hates them.

Jeremy: Speaking of subtext, shouldn’t the author just come out and say what they want to say and beat us over the head with it so we get the message clearly?

David: Absolutely. Subtext should be as overt and overstated as possible. It's the actual text that should only be hinted at and hidden in multiple shades of subtlety. The story in the collection "Cents of Wonder Rhymes with Orange" (centering on a dropped orange that inexplicably and repeatedly rolls uphill) is a lot like Eyes Wide Shut in that way. Then again, I might be confusing things again. I can never keep Eyes Wide Shut and Point Break straight.

Jeremy: Point Break is the one where Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman get naked and rob banks. Speaking of the movie business, films often claim to be “based on a true story” when only the germ of the idea is true. Did you consider labeling Not Quite So Stories the same way?

David: Many of the stories in this book were influenced by the central Discordian text Principia Discordia, particularly "The Boys of Volunteer Fire Two-Twenty-Two-Point-Five (and a Half)" (dealing with volunteer firefighters who are a little too volunteer and our uncertainty about the specific nature of our reality). In fact, the epigraph is a quote from the Princip. As such, I think the best way to respond to this question is to quote from the excerpt from an interview of Malaclypse the Younger in that book:
GP: Is Eris true?
M2: Everything is true.
GP: Even false things?
M2: Even false things are true.
GP: How can that be?
M2: I don't know man, I didn't do it.

Jeremy: We know from your book, The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes, that Village Inn is your go to place for breakfast. So what is your third favorite place to order pancakes?

David: I have a terrible time picking favorites. Like picking a favorite story from this collection, it changes all the time based on different factors. Some days it might be "Last Known Sighting of the HMS Thousand Thread Count Sheets" because I like the idea of trying to rationally approach something as irrational as a bedroom floor suddenly being liquid, whereas on other days it might be "Monkey! Monkey! Monkey! Monkey! Monkey!" simply because cymbal monkeys are both funny and creepy. It's the same with pancakes. I go to Village Inn, Denny's, Perkins, Pete's Kitchen, McCoys Restaurant, 11-Worth Cafe, Lisa's Radial Cafe, Breakfast King, Great Scotts Eatery, and more. I eat a lot of pancakes. Ranking is difficult.

Jeremy: It is clear that your mind is very fertile, and so one could view your stories as the “crop” from that mind. Any thoughts on that metaphor? Is it as hackneyed as it sounds?

David: I think "crop" would imply a much more linear, coherent phenomenon than would be applicable for what goes on inside my head. Sometimes things are straightforward and logical, but more often there are leaps that leave me completely mystified as to how I got from the beginning to the end of things. "Context Driven" arose from a day when I tried to get into my car in a parking lot and my key wouldn't open the door, because it was another Toyota of the same color (though a Camry instead of a Corolla). I wondered about what would happen if my key had worked and I had then become the person who owned that car. However, "Home Improvement" was much more like: Mix eggs, flour, and milk in a large mixing bowl. Place in a 3/4 inch cake pan. Bake on high for 2 hours. Take a left at Dodge Street just before 72nd and shake well before attempting to operate any heavy machinery lasting longer than four hours. I think this is a much more apt, albeit much more confusing, metaphor for how the stories in this collection came to be born.

Jeremy: I don’t want to spoil the ending of the book for everyone, but what made you decide to kill off every character?

David: Presuming the above as true, which my attorney has advised me from either confirming or denying, along with presuming that I have an attorney as opposed to having made him up entirely as well, it was self-defense. I admit nothing.

Jeremy: But do you admit that you admit to nothing? Never mind. Is there anything that would make you stop writing?

This is Rayon fabric. Are we sure it's not evil?
David: Sustained loss of consciousness would probably do it. I like writing, but it doesn't seem as if I really set out to do that. Things like the killer teddy bear in "60% Rayon and 40% Evil" and I'm always kind of writing them even if I don't sit down at a keyboard or with pen and paper. As long as I'm physically and mentally capable, I'm probably doing it.

Jeremy: When compared to pancakes, would it be fair to say that waffles and crepes are a waste of batter? Isn’t the pancake the form that all batter should aspire to take?

David: Though I personally prefer pancakes, I think all of the stories in this collection would remind one not to get caught up on the forms with which we process reality. The map is not the territory, convictions cause convicts, and all that. After all, waffles are just conformist pancakes…and I'll admit to being fond of wandering around Paris with a fresh crepe full of ham and melted cheese.

Jeremy: In Bones Buried in the Dirt, your first book, it is very clearly a unified story that came together somewhat haphazardly. Was Not Quite So Stories created in a unified way with the stories being somewhat haphazard?

David: Actually, no two of these stories came about in the same way. Some came about before I ever had the collection, and some after once I had a general plan I was pursuing. Some were spawned out of odd things that happened throughout my life or odd thoughts I had, but others came from some odd and dim recess completely inside my head. They all follow a certain theme, but each very different from each other and their origins reflect that.

Jeremy: Besides me, was there a writer out there where you read their work and said, “I want to do everything the opposite of them.” Again, besides me.

David: I don't think there's anyone I'd want to be completely opposite of. I read a lot of different kinds of authors and works. Balzac, Amelia Gray, Murakami, Bukowski, Etgar Keret, Kerouac, Harper Lee, J.D. Salinger, Stephen King, Clive Barker, Irvine Welch, Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O'Connor, Palahniuk, Dostoyevsky, and so on. The rare few authors that write in ways where I wouldn't do a thing differently aren't people I'd follow after since they've already done a better job than I would. The rare few authors I'd completely oppose wouldn't probably interest me enough to oppose them. Everyone else, the vast majority, do some things I like and some things I don't. I try to pick up what I consider the good and do differently what I didn't care for.

Thus concludes part one of our interview! Stay tuned to see if David actually sticks around for part two, or wisely walks out faster than Cam Newton at a press conference!