Christian TeBordo is the author of three novels, The Conviction and Subsequent Life of Savior Neck (Spuyten Duyvil, 2005), Better Ways of Being Dead (Afterbirth Books, 2007), and We Go Liquid (Impetus Press, 2007). TeBordo’s latest book, The Awful Possibilities (Featherproof Books, 2010) is a collection of stories unlike any you’ve ever read. Jeff Parker compared the stories to Quentin Tarantino. I would say, take a bit of Alan DeNiro’s Skinny Dipping in the Lake of the Dead, mix it with Tarantino and a dash of a scientist with a lab full of words and you might make it close to the stories that inhabit TeBordo’s awe-ful world.
Many thanks to Christian for taking the time to answer my questions!
RWB: I noticed that the collection’s lead story, “SS Attacks!” was featured in The Lifted Brow’s fake bookshelf issue. Was the story written as a reaction to the title they provided, or was it already in process and the title was adopted along the way?
CT: It’s kind of complicated. The Lifted Brow let all the authors for that issue choose the title they wanted to work with from a list they provided. My friend Adam Levin got to the one I wanted— “Dagger Lane” — first, so I kind of impetuously picked “SS Attacks!” because it had an exclamation point in it. I regretted it pretty quickly because I didn’t want to write about the SS. Then I came up with the quasi-spoonerism that gives the story its twist and felt a little better. On the other hand, I had been, and still am every now and then, working on a novel that has a lot of the same characters and some of the same concerns, but the story is more of a spinoff. The novel itself will be like the Great Gatsby if the Great Gatsby was about white kids who are into rap, black nationalism, and video games. Also if I ever finish it.
CT: The title of the collection came first. When featherproof accepted the manuscript it was going to be under a subscription imprint called Paper Egg, so I figured I should have a place online where people could find out about me if they wanted, and I didn’t see any point in having a static site so I started spouting off.
RWB: In your brilliant self-interview at The Nervous Breakdown you mention that the stories in this collection are involved with their individual voices, something that stood out to me as I read. Were these stories exercises in voice for you? If so, how did you find these experiments effecting your writing as a larger whole?
CT: So far, everything I’ve written (including my novels) has been driven by voice, though it’s probably less apparent in something like my last novel, We Go Liquid, where the voice is somewhat minimalist if also a little lyrical, than it is in some of my stories. For me, voice is limiting but also liberating. It’s limiting in that I’m only allowed one perspective, which makes it harder for me, as author, to wink at the reader. It’s liberating in that it helps me ignore the conventions of the short story (or novel), which generally seem to insist that all characters are flawed but fundamentally good. I don’t find those categories particularly interesting, and I hardly ever find them convincing in fiction, so I develop voices that allow me to deal with the kinds of things the characters would actually be concerned with. Also, credit for brilliance where it’s due — I got frustrated writing that self-interview, so I asked Sasha Fletcher to email me a handful of questions.
RWB: Previous to this collection you’ve had three novels published, do you have a natural preference to longer works? And how did the process of those novels effect how you approach writing these stories over the ten years that you worked/compiled them?
CT: I don’t think I have a natural preference. I’m also not the write-every-single-day type. When I feel the urge to spend a long time on something and I’ve got something I think I can sustain, I work on a novel. Stories usually come in short bursts, though those bursts can be stretched out over a long time. Otherwise there isn’t much of a difference in the way I approach them, which is probably a mistake on my part, because readers are willing to be more adventurous with a short story than a novel. I like trusting my readers to be adventurous.
RWB: I really enjoyed the postcards throughout the book, especially the final one. How and when in the process of putting the collection together did this idea come about?
CT: That was a last minute thing. I’d been writing them for years — they’re really little love notes to my wife — but they weren’t included in the manuscript I submitted. When Jonathan Messinger from featherproof helped me get the stories in their final order, I was worried that the collection would be overwhelming. I mean, at it’s most reductive, the collection begins with school shooting and moves on to neighbor harrassment then organ theivery and car crashes and so on. I thought the postcards could balance things out some. It was Zach Dodson’s idea to actually design them as postcards. He sent me a template for the back and I wrote them out by hand.
RWB: Something I’m always intrigued by with other writers is whether they plot their stories out or just start writing and see where the story goes as they actually write. Where I wondered this most in your collection was with the story, “Moldering.” This story takes a turn I didn’t see coming and I know, for me, not plotting out my stories, those sorts of turns tend to creep me out or put me on my guard a bit. So, the first question is whether or not you plot your stories. And the second question, how you felt about the turn in “Moldering” in relation to whether or not you plot your stories.
CT: The short answer is no, I don’t plot my stories. But within a few sentences I can usually see where a story is headed. The way I look at it, the first sentence eliminates about ninety percent of the possibilities for where a story can go. If a man is “growing moldy of wallet from hoeing down and the sweat therefrom,” then he probably needs a new wallet, and a man who puts it like that is probably willing to skin a friend if he has to. I worry that people think I’m trying to be fucked up with this stuff (or worse, that I’m just fucked up), but if I allow myself to dwell on those worries, the story will be dumb. I just follow through on the promise of the first sentence. That first sentence, by the way, came from me joking on myself when my wallet got a little funky from too much dancing.
RWB: The stories in this collection seem to pay particular attention to language and the way each sentence is constructed. Almost like there was something you were searching for, like a lab technician of words. What were you looking for in these adventures with your words? What did you find?
CT: I’m usually very intuitive with sentences. I make my living as a copywriter, so I know what makes a “good” sentence, but with fiction it’s different. I break rules in fiction that I wouldn’t let anybody break in my office. But I hope that the sentences in my stories are good in context, that the patterns help beautify forms that are technically wrong or ugly. Anyway, I tend to write pretty fast when I’m actually writing. I’m puzzled by people who say they can spend a whole day working one paragraph. If I’m having a hard time finding the right word in the middle of a sentence, I probably started it wrong.
RWB: Now that you have a story collection added to those three novels, what do your readers have to look forward to next, another novel or another collection? What can you tell us about it?
CT: Oh man, it would be nice to think anybody’s looking forward to something more from me. I’ve got a novel done. It’s set in an office. Kind of a romantic comedy but with more peeing in the elevators. I’ve also been writing a treatise on love, which anyone who’s read my postcards knows I’m super-qualified to do. Every now and then I write a short story. Lately they’ve been about famous people like Varg Vikernes and the Ultimate Warrior. And then there’s that novel I mentioned before that I’ve been writing forever.
RWB: Lastly, I have a somewhat random theory that the contents of the trunk of a writer’s car can tells us a lot about the overall personality and concerns of said writer. So, what’s in your car’s trunk?
CT: I don’t have a car. Does this mean I have no personality or concerns? That would make my life so much easier.