Thursday, February 9, 2012

Interview with Marshall Moore, author of The Infernal Republic

Marshall Moore is the author of The Concrete Sky (2003), Black Shapes in a Darkened Room (2003, 2009), An Ideal for Living (2010), and his most recent release, the story collection The Infernal Republic.

We're pleased to present this interview we had with him in January of 2012 as his most recent collection of short stories is being released.

Q:  Can you give everyone a few words about The Infernal Republic? How did this collection come about, and what can readers expect from it?

MM: This is my second collection, following 2004's Black Shapes in a Darkened Room. (I can't believe 8 years have passed since then!) Most of the stories have been published in various journals, although several are unique to this book. It's funny: this collection was accepted for publication by one small press in the States in... 2008, I think. That publisher was overwhelmed, juggling his day job and his publishing commitments, and opted to drop it. He tried to help me find another press, but that didn't work out. Then another one (which I had found on my own) said yes. Without being unduly negative, let's just say that there were some gigantic red flags; I chose not to ignore them andwithdrew the book. These experiences were a couple of the factors that prompted me to found Signal 8 Press, so I really can't complain: as the publisher, I know the book's in very good hands!

Q: In "Urban Reef," the opening story, two acquaintances view and ponder over a man teetering on a building ledge in Portland. In this and other stories, setting wonderfully contributes to characters' emotions. How would you describe the diverse range of settings in this collection, which spans from Hong Kong to Hell?

MM: That's me being Southern, and one hallmark of Southern writing is the importance of place. Although I don't set my work there, and haven't lived in the South in almost 20 years (15 if you include Washington DC), I am a part of that literary tradition. I grew up with a strong sense of regional identity, and I think that manifests in my work. I tend to write about places I have lived or visited (although I haven't been to Hell in the literal sense!). I travel a lot, or used to, and have lived in a number of interesting cities, so it's inevitable that I'd use them in my work. Although I don't consciously choose setting as a compliment or contrast to the characters' emotions, the relationship's there, regardless. You can see this in "The Blue Bridge," which starts out in Seattle on a fairly dark note and ends in a much more cheerful place, Amsterdam. There's a fine line though: I don't want the stories to rest on common stereotypes about certain cities.

Q: In other stories, such as "Everything Has Been Arranged," "Marble Forest, Karstic Heart" and "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living," readers can enjoy surreal, sometimes dreamlike fiction. How does the element of the "strange" (meant here in that good sense a lot of successful fiction possesses) work in your writing?

MM: There's no single universe with a single set of laws or principles that guide how the weird stuff works. Although I admire writers like Stephen King who have assembled a body of fiction within a universe they have created, I haven't gotten there yet: I haven't written enough to have developed an overarching mythos of my own. The makings of one are there, and in the fullness of time -- if I am fortunate enough to have a long career, a readership, and a smidgen of relevance -- I hope that this is something I'll be able to create. I have to say, though: a story with an element of the supernatural is far more intriguing to me than one without. I don't think I could write a work of regular hysterical realism (which is where fiction seems to be these days) if I tried!

Q: Could you give readers insight into your writing process toward short stories? How is a story born, and when--if ever--does it feel "done"?

MM: This has changed over the years. It used to be that the whole thing would materialize in my head, more or less intact. I could plunge in and start writing. I'd finish one short story and dive right into another. When I look back on that time (roughly a decade ago), I am amazed by my output. I'm much busier now. Generally the seed of the idea appears in my head, and I have to wait until it is ready. This is instinctive: I'm not sure how to articulate it. It's like waiting until the tumor is big enough that you can have surgery. I think David Cronenberg said that. I do a lot of polishing after I get to the end, and at some point it feels ready, and I can send it out. Earlier on, I used to submit stories way too early in the process, and I think that has a lot to do with the rejections I racked up. Now, well, my output has slowed down a lot. It's okay, though, because I'm not in such a hurry to get published; with four books now, a fifth in the pipeline, and dozens of short stories in print, I can take my time and make sure I'm satisfied with each piece.

Q: What's next for you and your work?

MM: I have another novel in the pipeline, titled Bitter Orange. It'll be published sometime in 2013, probably in the spring. I wrote it while I lived in Korea. The book came about because of something completely random: I had an idea about a guy who would go out to do his Friday crimes. The phrase Friday crimes (which does not figure into the finished version of the book at all) stuck in my head. Being a Western expat in homogeneous Korea made me think a lot about visibility and invisibility: people there would often openly stare at me, because they didn't see white folks very often. I often felt invisible, despite all the gawking: invisible, but not really. Bitter Orange came out of the two things: what if somebody was invisible, but not in the conventional sense? The idea evolved: what if a guy could turn invisible but not in a superhero sense -- it only happened when he was doing something he knew to be wrong? This brought up interesting (to me, anyway) questions about the ethics of self-defense, revenge, and retaliation against corporations. Even though I wrote the book several years ago, it turns out that it's quite timely: there's a very strong anti-corporate sentiment in it. Ultimately, I think the book is about corruption and the extent to which you either reject it or make your peace with it.

After that, we'll see. I'm hoping to have enough short fiction finished for a third collection, but that's still quite a ways off!

Thanks for your time, Marshall, and this insight into your work.


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