where’s home? how has where you're from affected your writing?
If you mean geographically, I'm from all sorts of places – mostly in the Pacific Northwest (with two anomalous years in Alabama). Now I live in the St. Charles County, Missouri. That's in the St. Louis area. But in the Northwest, I've lived in Seattle; Portland, Oregon; Vancouver and Pullman, Washington. But if you mean "where am I coming from," I'd have to say that I tend to favor the more rural, less refined, straightforward. I like the forest more than any place, and I think my writing is shot through with that sense.
what else has influenced your writing?
Really the first influencer of my writing was probably Alex Kuo. You know, I kept getting my assignments back with A's on them, and after a while he must have said something like, "Hey, you might have a skill here," or something. For a while in college that's what I thought I'd do – then I got married to Natalie (another huge influencer and encourager with regard to my writing), graduated, got into the work force, started building a career, kids, house, pets, mowing the lawn, weeding the beds. Didn't write a thing for years. The first books that influenced me were the White Mountains trilogy by the British author John Christopher. I wrote to him for advice on how to be a writer when I was 13 years old. I still have his response: "What you need is lots of practice, lots of reading (to see how other people do it) and above all lots of patience and perseverance." There is also the most awesome book called The Fabulous Flight to the Mushroom Planet I read again and again as a kid. As far as important books today, I'd have to approach it from the standpoint of the writers themselves rather than their individual works. My favorite contemporary writers – those whose books I buy right out of the chute and can't wait for the trade paperback – I'd say Russell Banks, Sherman Alexie, Steve Erickson, Chang-rae Lee. I like them all for different reasons – Banks for unforgettable characters, Alexie for the voice and sense of place, Erickson just because reading him is so otherworldly and challenging it feels like breaking a code and that appeals to me. And Lee for the grace that is just totally inherent in his work. Other authors I like: Jhumpa Lahiri, Chris Offut, Barry Lopez, Haruki Murakami, Joyce Carol Oates, Magnus Mills, Iain Banks, Jon Billman, Nathan Englander, Ron Hansen, Louis de Bernieres. I love Stephen King because he continually freaks me out. I like Larry McMurtry's Lonesome Dove. I like an anthology of stories by Jorge Luis Borges I have called Labyrinths but I barely understand them.
when did you start writing? why did you start?
I have this notion that whenever it began, it was a long time ago. I wrote a story as a youngster about how Coyote and Fox created the comets. My elementary school librarian made it into a filmstrip. I had my first story published as an undergraduate in Wind Row, Washington State University's literary magazine, around 1983 or so. It was a strange hallucinatory piece called "The Black Tablet." I hope there are no copies of it around, but I recall being extraordinarily proud and fond of it at the time. But I first considered myself a writer – as opposed to a person who wants to write or thinks they might someday write – in August 1998. I attended a Sherman Alexie reading in downtown Seattle. Alex Kuo, my college English professor and, as it turned out, Alexie's, was opening up for the reading with some of his own work. I hadn't seen Alex in 14 years. They invited me out to supper afterward, where Alex pointedly asked how my writing had progressed and matured since college. All I had were lame excuses. Next day he e-mailed, "Hope you will find time to write. It is important on many levels that we continue." Ever his student, I wrote three or four short stories the next weekend. Probably twenty-five stories in two or three months. They just poured out of me, years and years of them.
what are your current projects?
Word Riot Press just published my new set of short stories in a volume called Eighty-Sixed: A Compendium of the Hapless. And of course, there are always more short stories – I have so many ideas I can't write them down fast enough. Whether they're all good is another matter entirely, but the seeds are there. I spent some time recently as a fiction editor for on on-line pub called "Word Riot," though I'm on hiatus from that right now. That kept me busy, and sympathetic with editors everywhere. I have an unpublished novel entitled Salt Lick – the story of a small mountain town whose megalomaniac mayor dies suddenly and leaves its quirky residents wondering how to cope with his absence. Quirk-o-rama. I have another novel idea about a drover who takes mules across Kansas – it's based on a historical short story I've done, and I have this sense it really has enough in it to be a novel or maybe at least a novella. Another collection in the works: As Many Hands as God. Oh, and I'm doing book reviews here and there as well. Maybe another suspense/horror project in the wings -- I gotta write a few more stories before I know whether it takes shape.
what else would you like to say?
I would encourage everyone who likes to read to support small presses and literary journals. The folks who are involved with these make virtually no money and do so much to expand the possibilities for writers. And they preserve so much of the human record. I'm not at all saying anything like "don’t patronize the big New York presses or the bookstore chains" – I hear that and it seems like a popular, P.C. thing to say in some writing circles, but I'm not going to tell anybody what to do. I'm as likely to step into Barnes and Noble as into Elliott Bay Book Company in downtown Seattle, and I subscribed to the New Yorker and I buy books published by all the big houses. I'm just saying subscribe to a few of the lit mags and 'zines too. Personally, if I'm not reading three or four of them at a time, plus the latest Harpers', plus a novel and someone's short story collection, then I worry about what I'm going to miss. I'm normally a very neat person. But you ought to see my nightstand – it looks like a windstorm's blown through.