Scott McClanahan is the author of Stories and the newly released Stories 2, which I discussed HERE. He lives in West Virginia. These are questions I asked and he answered.
RWB: First of all, Scott, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. It’s a pleasure to have the opportunity to talk with you about your work. There was discussion recently on Big Other, from a post by Shya Scanlon [read it HERE], about using one’s self as a character, something you do in both Stories and Stories 2. While some writers such as Neal Pollack do this with a more absurdist bent, the other reason that is often assumed, I think, is that it’s due to the autobiographical nature of the work in question. While I suppose it would be easy to assume the latter is true with your work, I am interested to hear how you decided to use yourself as a character. Is it a choice that just came naturally given the material?
SM: Actually, it’s a total misconception that I’m writing about myself. I actually grew up with a kid who lived close by and his name was Scott McClanahan too. I know it’s a strange coincidence, but what’s even more interesting is he ended up marrying a woman named Sarah many years later. So yeah it’s weird, but I just write stories from his point of view really. If he ever moves away though, I’m going to be totally screwed.
But REALLY, I could try to analyze why I “decided” to use myself as a character, but it’s just not something that interests me. I think you get hungry because you get hungry. Stories used to be linked to fertility cults in the ancient world. I think this should still be true. Writing should lead to pregnancy, not discussion.
RWB: As someone who writes largely about blue collar characters, an arena that can sometimes be hard to champion in the writing world, can you tell me what draws you to the stories you tell?
SM: I just think my people are the weirdest people in the world. I could care less about what the rest of the kids in the writing world are doing. I’m sure it’s either purple prose about cannibal babies or ironic poems about Diet Sprite.
When I was a kid I used spend tons of time with my Grandma Ruby though. She was one of these old mountain women who had actually given birth to thirteen children and who could still slaughter animals or render lard if she had to.
I mean she even bought a gravestone for herself before she was even dead. And we used to go and visit the grave each year, and she would buy flowers for it, and pay her respects to herself when she got there.
I don’t know if it’s a blue collar thing or anything. Real blue collar people don’t consider themselves blue collar. They want to be as rich as the next guy. Even if I grew up in a family of dentists, I’m sure a grandma putting flowers on her own gravestone would be something I’d be interested in talking about.
RWB: You’re very skilled at writing a story that feels like it’s being told over a third or fourth drink in a dim bar. In real life I feel like that’s when I’m at my best as a storyteller/entertaining human being, but I have a much harder time writing in a way that reflects that aspect of my personality. Since it seems to come so naturally to you is it safe to assume that this is a real aspect of your personality as well? Or is it a sculpted measure of your writing style?
SM: I don’t really like bars, but that’s maybe because of my church upbringing.
On the other hand, I DO think people get ruined “trying” to write. When it comes to writing style it’s like the Knights of the Round Table really. Galahad and Bors are tearing shit up in the castle looking for the grail, tearing walls down trying to find it. Where is it? Where is it?
Parzival is with them too, but he does something different. He just decides to sit down and not say anything. And you know what? The fucking grail is sitting right in front of him.
That’s all writing is. It’s simple. I mean if you ever get writers block, just lower your standards.
RWB: I read an interview with you at JMWW recently, and you talk about a novel you’ve been working on, or that will be your next book. One of the questions I had planned to ask fell somewhat in this category and that is if/when you write a novel should a reader expect Scott McClanahan the character to be the portal for this work, and will it look like your short stories or will there be a departure from the style of your collections?
SM: Yeah, it’s going to be another Scott McClanahan book for sure. I don’t think a style is really a style if you can get rid of it. Then it’s just a fashion you were trying on for awhile.
Of course, Hillbilly is going to be all about my childhood growing up in the mountains, playing with flying squirrels, going to a therapist later on in life who was named Hamlet. Honestly, that was his real name. Is that not the worst name for a shrink you can think of? If anyone needs an appointment, just let me know. He’s still practicing in southern WV.
It’s going to be full of my dreams and nightmares too. I’m going to fuse Twain with Lautreamont. It’s going to have plenty of dirty potato chip stains on it—that’s for sure.
RWB: I noticed in Stories 2 that none of the stories were previously published, which is sort of like bucking the system for a story collection! Is there a reason you did it this way? Was it the good fortune of having a publisher who was already interested, or more of a feeling of immediacy on your part?
SM: Really I’m just completely ignorant of how things work. I know this might piss people off, but I’ve always felt literary journals are like those NOW THIS IS MUSIC VOL. 22 CD’s that they always advertise on MTV. I can’t know one time I’ve bought an album by an artist because of hearing a song on one of those compilations.
I actually just lucked into the Six Gallery thing really. It was a complete fluke, nothing calculated or anything (I’m not saying there wasn’t some sniffing around for somebody to help me out). Che (one of the editors) was just a guy interested in similar things I’m interested in—black magic, etc.
RWB: If someone calls the number in “This Is A Story With A Phone Number In It” will they find it to be a valid number? And who will they reach if it is?
SM: (insert seductive Pepe Le Pew voice here) People will just have to find out for themselves—now won’t they? Hopefully, they won’t mind some heavy breathing on the other end though. And I promise to whisper sweet nothings into your ear Mr. Bradley.
RWB: “Pink Ping Pong Balls” reminded me of my grandparents on my mother’s side. My grandfather would hunt golf balls down at the local course and resell them to the golfers. But my grandma would always go through them and keep the colored ones for herself. Any chance you’re going to divulge why Johnny wanted all the pink ping pong balls?
SM: Nope. What would life be without a little mystery? I say enough theorizing children. More mystery. More mystery. And long live the literary terrorists of this world. I’m waiting for you all. Please bring the gasoline.
Ryan W. Bradley has pumped gas, changed oil, painted houses, swept the floor of a mechanic's shop, worked on a construction crew in the Arctic Circle, fronted a punk band, and managed an independent children's bookstore. He now works in marketing. His latest book is Nothing but the Dead and Dying, a collection of stories set in Alaska. He lives in southern Oregon with his wife and two sons.