Today, I’m speaking with the illustrious and accomplished author of Freedom & Consequence, The Cheese Toast Project, A Tale of Two Sisters, Crazy Like the Foxes and The Long-Timers.
M: Were the stories written for, Freedom & Consequence written all at once, with the idea of making a book, or were they written at various different times in your life?
G: These stories were written over the past 20-30 years, starting around the time I was in college. The oldest story in the collection, “Suzi Thunder,” was written while I was an undergrad at Georgia State University around 1985 and appeared in the GSU Review, Georgia State’s literary magazine that year. The more recent stories, set mostly in Atlanta were written over the past two or three years and published first on my blog. The versions here are edited and expanded from what was on my blog. “A Bad Day’s Work,” “Titania,” “Metempsychosis,” “Route 412 to Tulsa,” “Shocks to the System” and “Suzi Thunder” appeared in a limited edition Kindle version called Tales of the New Wave, which I created to learn how to format books for Kindle.
Some of the ideas I’ve carried around in my head for quite some time. I thought up the basic plot for “A Debt to Pay,” about a man who cripples a woman in a car crash and comes back to redeem himself after he’s released from jail, when I was in college as part of a series of stories I wanted to write about a fictitious town, but never put on paper.
M: The stories have a rhythm, much like Shirley Jackson’s stories, with a great sense of foreboding. Who are some of your favorite short story authors?
G: Two of my favorites are J. D. Salinger and Flannery O’Connor. O’Connor’s work also has a sense of foreboding to it, which I enjoy. I also enjoy Kurt Vonnegut’s short fiction and novels. Vonnegut is probably my favorite writer.
M: Kurt is one of my favorites as well. I have a t-shirt with, Schlachthof fünf written on it. Do you prefer writing short stories over novels?
G: I like being able to churn out a story quickly, which is possible with a short story as opposed to a novel, but I also like the ability to explore characters and situations in more detail that’s afforded by a novel. I also write plays and that employs a totally different method of storytelling, since one is trying to convey an idea for someone else to translate, namely a director and actors. I don’t have a preference and have recently used a story, “Rachel,” which appears in the book, to convey information introduced in a play I wrote, but which didn’t fit in the play. I’m exploring that for other characters and stories in works I have in progress. I’ve recently been writing a lot of micro-fiction, in which I’ll think of a story, write it up and post it on my blog within a few days. Most of the stories on my blog are early drafts, and subject to change a lot before they’re formally published.
Much of my work has been set in a sort of fictional Atlanta and revolves around an ever expanding pool of characters. I created a fictional company, Bickering Plummet, where many of my characters work, and it’s the setting for “The Miracle of the Magic Dollar,” as well as an introductory story in the book.
M: One of my favorite stories is, “Klan Candy.” As soon as you see the title, you have to read it, because you have to find out what that is. In essence, it’s a bag of candy handed out from the Klan to solicit membership. Where did you get the idea for, “Klan Candy?”
G: Klan Candy was ‘ripped from the headlines’ so to speak. I saw a report on the Klan somewhere in the Carolinas, sending out candy to entice new members and thought it was the most ridiculous thing I’d ever heard. Growing up around Atlanta, I heard all sorts of stories about the Klan and how fearsome they were, so hearing that they were soliciting new members by sending out candy was pretty hilarious. The only thing I’ve read about them that was more absurd, was a story that a Klan leader somewhere up north joined the NAACP in some attempt to show solidarity or some such reason. Another story in the book, “The Miracle of the Magic Dollar” was also based on an actual experience that happened at work, though embellished for humorous effect.
M: The first story in Freedom and Consequence is “A Bad Days Work.” The character is essentially an anti Bartleby from Bartleby, the Scrivener, because rather than refusing to leave the job; that’s all he thinks about. The story is about a young man who feels he’s in a boring, dead end job. Did you have a job or series of jobs like that?
G: Jason from, “A Bad Day’s Work,” is loosely based on me from around age nineteen or twenty, though I didn’t go away to school as an undergraduate and didn’t stop once I started. I did defer going to college right out of high school and I did work in an office similar to the one in the story, though not with that particular cast of characters. The office in, “A Bad Day’s Work” probably resembles the Savannah office of the company where I worked, since they did imports and exports, and my office dealt mostly with imports, but the circumstances of Jason’s employment there do mirror mine. The manager, Mr. Bugg, is taken from another manager I had at a job in college, though.
“A Bad Day’s Work” was one of the ones I wrote in college in the 80s and it’s been through several revisions. In an early draft, Jason beat up his manager and ran off, taking refuge on top of a building that’s about to be demolished. It took on its current form sometime in the 90s.
M: You’ve lived in both the northeast as well as the southeast, as have I and some of your stories are set in the north and some are set in the south. Where do you prefer living and what do you like or dislike about either region.
G: Atlanta’s my hometown, so I know it better than anyplace else. I liked living in New York in the late-80s to early-90s, but it’s a very unforgiving city and I got into a lot of debt. Also, at the time I was living there, just before Giuliani was elected mayor, the job market was horrible and I was hardly making enough to live on, given how expensive it is to live there.
I don’t like the pollen or the traffic in Atlanta, but I enjoy the theater and music scenes here, plus there’s a lot of activity with the film industry. What I enjoyed most about New York, is the fact that I didn’t own a car the entire time I lived there and didn’t miss it. Also, I got more exercise and didn’t have as much problem with my allergies. If I could find another place like that somewhere else, I’d consider moving there.
M: I lived in New York as well for four years and I agree, it eats up your money. Which story was your favorite to write?
G: The one I most enjoyed writing was, “Dead Man’s Hat,” which was inspired by the spoken word piece, “Small Change” by Tom Waits, from the album of the same name. I liked capturing the tone of the original piece and creating something totally new from it. I doubt the original is set in Atlanta in the 60s, but that’s where I chose to set my story. I used it in a reading a year or so ago and people familiar with my work said it didn’t sound like my typical style.
M: “Shocks to the System” is another great story that is reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe. The thought of killing an annoying roommate or coworker has probably flickered in everyone’s mind, but your character actually carries out the deed. You mentioned to me in conversation you had a very annoying roommate. What creative ways did you come up with in your fantasy to dispatch him?
G: I wrote Shocks to the System after we had stopped being roommates, sort of as revenge after the fact. At around the same time, I was on an Internet news group called, alt.flame.roommate, where I also complained about him as my “idiot ex-roommate” and that may have influenced me to write the story more than the actual experience, since my solution to every bad roommate situation on that group, was to kill the roommate. I never really entertained actual thoughts of homicide while we were residing together, though he was very annoying and anal retentive about how things around the apartment needed to be done. It’s another that’s partially based on actual events from my life, though in real life, I just moved out, rather than doing him any harm. My rash decision to move out and into a more expensive apartment was the main cause of my later financial difficulties while in NYC.
M: What writers/books have most influenced you?
G: A recent work I found very intriguing was, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, which is about teen suicide. It features a character trying to piece together the story of why a fellow student killed herself using only clues she left behind. I’m very much interested in the masks people put on to deal with others, and how one person can assume many characters in public without ever revealing his or her true self. It’s the main reason I like seeing actors in different roles on stage.
My favorite author is Kurt Vonnegut and I’ve probably read everything he’s written, novels, essays, short stories and his one play. I like how he uses the conventions of science fiction to tell his stories. Other writers who’ve influenced me are Hemingway and Salinger. I also like Joseph Heller, and most of Thomas Pynchon’s work.
The first book I remember really loving was, Mystery of the Haunted Pool by Phyllis Whitney and I read it at least once a year when I was in elementary school. I have a copy of it now that I found at a used book store, but haven’t read it lately.
Early in my writing career, I was heavily influenced by the poet Rod McKuen, and I’ve written an essay that’s on my blog an in my compilation of essays called, The Cheese Toast Project, about the impact of reading his work, “Listen to the Warm” when I was in high school. He taught me that writing doesn’t have to follow a specified format and can be whatever the author wants it to be.
I’m also inspired by art and music. On my birthday this year, I went to the High Museum in Atlanta, to see the Basquiat exhibit and came away with an idea for a character. I like to go to the High when there’s no one there, so I can take my time to peruse the works. When there aren’t a lot of people there, it’s very quiet and one can hear what’s going on in other parts of the building. For instance, when I was there in April, there was an exhibit that featured a performance by Nina Simone looped over and over, which I could hear everywhere I went on the floor and provided an eerie backdrop to the experience. Also, there was a choir downstairs, which I heard when I went across the bridge to another wing, so I ended up going down and watching them perform.
I’m also inspired being out in nature. I find when I go for long walks at Stone Mountain I often come up with lots of ideas. I once invented an entire backstory for a character during one morning walk on the trails at the mountain.
My brain is sort of like a pinball machine and when an idea gets up there and makes a connection, it’s like all sort of bells and lights are going off at once. Sometimes, it’s hard to write it all down quickly enough. Having my phone with me is a huge help, since it affords me the opportunity to write things down when they come to me in some remote location or while I’m at work.
M: Tell everyone where they can find you online and where to get your books.
G: The one-stop shop for all my online endeavors is lupo.com. It’s been my presence on the web since 1995 and has links to my accounts at Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumbler, WordPress, YouTube and my author page at Amazon.