Friday, April 02, 2021

12 or 20 (second series) questions with Darrin Doyle

Darrin Doyle teaches at Central Michigan University. The Big Baby Crime Spree and Other Delusions is his fifth book of fiction. He’s the author of the story collections Scoundrels Among Us and The Dark Will End the Dark (Tortoise Books) and the novels The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo (St. Martin’s Press) and Revenge of the Teacher's Pet: A Love Story (LSU Press). He lives in Mount Pleasant, Michigan with three other humans and a cat. His website is

1 - How did your first book or chapbook change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?

My first novel, Revenge of the Teacher’s Pet: A Love Story, was the culmination of 13 years of diligent writing. I’d written strictly short fiction for 9 of those 13 years, and Revenge was my first crack at a novel. So publication was an enormous validation and sense of accomplishment. Also, it eventually helped me get a full-time teaching job at a university (after four years on the job market).

2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?

I originally wrote both fiction and poetry. Poetry was my first inclination, and I felt confident in my abilities. Ultimately, however, poetry didn’t energize me the same way fiction did. I started to lose confidence in my poems. Maybe because poetry feels more autobiographical, I had a tough time figuring out what I wanted to write about. With fiction, I could imagine anything and anyone, and I could bury my personal life more deeply within the narratives (where only I would know what was “true”).

3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?

Starting is the easy part for me; it’s the finishing that takes time. With short fiction, I often start multiple pieces, and many of them stall out after a few pages. I have loads of unfinished drafts lying around. I wait for one that can get over the hump, plotwise, and find momentum toward an ending. Once that happens, the draft usually appears similar to its final shape.

4 - Where does a work of fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?

I’ve taken all of the approaches you mention. My first novel started as a short story. My second was meant to be a novel from the start. For story collections, I’m sort of always writing them, and eventually (with a little luck) enough pieces might cohere into a publishable whole. 

5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?

Readings are a necessary and enjoyable part of getting my writing in front of people. There’s a lot of competition for peoples’ attention these days, and if I can share my work with others and have the spotlight for 25 minutes, I’m all for it. I played in a band for ten years, and the experience is similar: lots of nerves and adrenaline; some nights of playing to near-empty houses; other nights of terrific energy and connection. 

6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?

I would be lying if I said I wrote with conscious theoretical concerns, but I’m pretty sure that everything I write is dancing unconsciously around the question: Why are we here on this Earth? Unless you’re a person of faith and have belief in your purpose, this is an unanswerable question, and those are the best kind.

7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?

Creative writers (and all artists) are the documenters of the human story – even moreso than historians, philosophers, scientists, politicians, religious leaders. There’s a great quote by Cynthia Ozick: “It is the curious identity of books in general that history and philosophy, invaluable though they are, cannot, by their very nature, contain novels; yet novels can contain history and philosophy.” If you want to understand a culture, look at its art. This is where you’ll find the morals, beliefs, fears, values, mores – the whole zeitgeist. In our culture, this is especially true of small literary presses and independent producers of art. Commercial art tends to follow the money and therefore may show a skewed (or narrow) representation of who we are. The independent producers of art, less beholden to popular trends, reveal the heart of the human experience in any given time and place.

8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?

My experiences with outside editors have been enjoyable and essential. I love to hear suggestions, and 97% of the time, I agree with what they have to say. It’s a wonderful way to learn and grow as a writer.

9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?

Persist, persist, persist. 

10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (novels to the short story)? What do you see as the appeal?

I move fairly easily between them, although when I’m working on a novel I’m only working on that novel. But the forms are so different. I remember a teacher of mine (Stuart Dybek) saying that the short story form is closer to a poem than it is to a novel, and I have come to agree with that claim. 

11 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?

I used to write every night for three hours after the rest of the world had gone to bed. These days, though, I find it impossible to write while the school year is in session (I’m a teacher), so I restrict most of my writing to summer. I escape to places with little or no internet, like rustic cabins, and binge-write for three days at a time. It’s exhausting but also immersive and productive.

12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?

I read a quote from Ray Bradbury that was something to the effect of “Writer’s block is your mind’s way of telling you that you’re bored with what you’re working on.” (Those aren’t the exact words, but the meaning is accurate.) I agree with this. To me, the only cure for being stalled is to start something new, push myself to write something – anything – entertaining that will hold my interest. 

13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?

Beef stroganoff. 

14 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?

Books are number one, but I’m a huge movie buff and listen to a lot of music. Of course, nature is also a big influence; just taking long walks outside with no distractions clears my mind, gives it room to breathe, invites ideas. 

15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?

Shirley Jackson, Percival Everett, Franz Kafka. They are gifts that keep on giving. 

16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?

Visit Machu Picchu in the Andes Mountains.

17 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?

I was pretty serious about being a musician when I was younger. I played in bands from age 16 until 26, and I continue to play, both alone and with my band Daryl & the Beans. Although the life of a musician is rough and exhausting, I would have loved to take it further. Recording in a studio, collaborating with good friends and an actual engineer is one of my favorite things. 

18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?

I returned to college after a three-year break (playing music full-time), and a creative writing professor told me I should consider applying to graduate school. That’s what really sparked the fuse. I also was feeling fatigue with playing music full-time. As I mentioned above, that lifestyle is tough, with a lot of effort and small rewards. Super fun at times; depressing at others. Writing was something that required a lot less physical exertion, and at least gave the illusion of more stability. Plus, I probably enjoyed having more control over the art I was making.

19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?

The Lighthouse was a great film – weird, dark, funny, surreal, with excellent performances and dialogue. The tone of that movie is sort of what I’m going for in a lot of my stories. A wonderful short novel is The Auctioneer by Joan Samson. A chilling, believable, tense story of a con man who comes to a small rural town and starts taking everything away from the residents – and they happily oblige. It was written in 1975, but its characters and conflicts echo certain cult-like political leaders we’ve seen recently.

20 - What are you currently working on?

I’ve got a lyrical, dark novella that’s been in the works for a while, and I’m plugging away at a comical novel about a werewolf who works at Lowe’s. Stay tuned!

12 or 20 (second series) questions;

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