Sunday, March 29, 2009

Author Q&A with Darrin Doyle, 'Revenge of the Teacher's Pet: A Love Story'

Darrin Doyle grew up in Michigan, although he has also lived in Osaka, Cincinnati, Louisville, and Manhattan (Kansas, not the other one). His short stories have appeared in Puerto del Sol, The Long Story, Cottonwood, Alaska Quarterly Review, Night Train, Harpur Palate, Laurel Review, The MacGuffin, and other journals. He has received fellowships and scholarships from the Sewanee Writers Conference and the NY Summer Writers Institute. In the fall of 2009, he will begin teaching fiction writing at Central Michigan University.

His first novel, Revenge of the Teacher’s Pet: A Love Story, has been released by LSU Press. His second novel, The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in 2010.

About the book:

Revenge of the Teacher’s Pet: A Love Story, 208 pages, LSU Press (Yellow Shoe Fiction Series), 2009.

How did you get your start in writing?
I’ve always enjoyed reading. As a kid, my parents read me Where the Red Fern Grows and A Wrinkle in Time, and this is when I first became conscious of how powerful a story could be. On my own, I started reading Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and Piers Anthony. I can recall reading Jack London’s story, “To Build a Fire,” aloud to my 7th grade class – I don’t know what the occasion was – but that’s a long story! I’m still surprised that I did this, and also that the teacher let me do it!
I wrote lots of stories in high school, all absurd, crazy stories like “Mother Micah and her 47 Sons” and “Little Timmy Toob.” My good friend and I would exchange stories in the hall between classes, always trying to outdo one another and make each other laugh. These were intended solely as escape from the doldrums of school, and to this extent, they worked wonderfully.
It wasn’t until I was a 26-year-old senior at Western Michigan University that I heard (from the great poet/teacher William Olsen) that I could go to school for an MFA in creative writing, and that I could potentially get an assistantship, teach classes, and have my schooling paid for. This was a major revelation. I immediately applied and was accepted – an event that changed my life. Initially, I wrote both poetry and fiction, but eventually, I became more comfortable with fiction and made it my focus.
I published four short stories in literary magazines after graduating, lived in Japan, traveled around Southeast Asia, returned to Michigan, worked at a few jobs that were unsatisfying, and then decided to go back to school for my PhD. That’s where I wrote my first novel.

What does your writing routine look like?
I tend to write after 10pm, when there are no distractions. I attempt to write every night, but knowing that this is unrealistic, I allow myself a broad definition of the word “write.” Therefore, lots of nights are spent reading and re-reading my in-progress stories. Some evenings, I do nothing more than change a comma here, a word there. Still, I consider this writing since it requires ‘living in’ the story, keeping myself tethered to its characters, its conflicts, and thinking about where it might go. When I’m really busy, I like to write longhand in a notebook. For example, when I was teaching four sections of freshman composition in 2006, I grabbed every moment I could during the day to scribble in my notebook. This is pretty much how I wrote my second novel, The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo.

Tell us some writers whose work you admire and why.
I admire Flannery O’Connor for her psychological insight, her amazing ability to jump from one point of view to another, and her humor.
I admire Franz Kafka for being the most original writer in history; nobody has come close to Kafka as far as uniqueness of vision. And ultimately, it is our uniqueness of vision that defines us as writers. I will never come close to Kafka, but I can keep trying.
I admire George Saunders, Sam Lipsyte, Judy Budnitz, Christine Schutt, Kathryn Davis, Lorrie Moore, and Chris Bachelder for being exciting, restless writers who surprise me and make me laugh.

What are you working on next?
I continue to work on short-stories in the hopes of someday publishing a collection, or at the very least, continuing to be associated with some of the many fine literary journals currently available. Recently, I have written a number of so-called short-shorts that are surreal and lyrical, all based around body parts. I have also begun work on a novel, tentatively titled Bad Luck Buttercup. That’s all I’m at liberty to say.

What made you decide to write this novel?
I was writing a short story with these characters, Mary Ann Tucker and Dale Portwit, two middle-aged, elementary school teachers. I enjoyed jumping between their points of view, and I enjoyed writing in the voices of characters that were very much unlike me. Once the story hit twenty-some pages, I realized that it wasn’t even close to being done. That’s when I said “screw it” and decided just to write as much as I wanted, with no regard for length. I had no plan, no plot. I simply had a setting and two clear characters whose voices I heard with amazing clarity. I wrote 300 pages in a four-month period – an incredible output that gave me symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome and inspired me to invest in a nice chair with armrests.
I had such fun writing that first draft – following the voices, the manias, the desires, of these characters – that it really felt like the story “wrote itself,” if I can use a cliché.

What challenges did you face with this book?
The main challenge was the revision. My 300-page novel was raw, manic, and full of what Mark Twain would call “surplusage.” Fortunately, I had two amazing mentors named Brock Clarke and Michael Griffith who gave me advice on how to turn this unwieldy – if spirited – story into a focused book. I chopped the first 75 pages. I made elaborate lists of the main events in each chapter. I wrote timelines and character sketches. I researched limb removal and prosthetics, as well as the psychological effects of limb loss. 18 months later, I had a new draft that was ready to send to literary agents.

What advice would you have for other writers/would-be writers?
My advice can be boiled down to one word: persist. You must love what you do, and you must do it relentlessly and consistently, even in the face of repeated failure. You must, of course, love to read and write (this should go without saying), but if you believe in what you do, and you are writing for the joy it provides you, you will see your work in print. It will most likely take a few years, however, and a few ulcers, to get to this point.

EDITOR'S NOTE: J. Louise Larson, blogmistress for The Writing Porch, interviews published authors. To be considered, email her at jackielarsonwrites (at) gmail (dot) com. Larson's work has been published in a number of newspapers and magazines, including the Dallas Morning News and Entrepreneur Magazine. She is the managing editor of the Ennis Journal and a contributor at the Waxahachie Daily Light, and she has received the top award for series writing in Texas, the Texas APME, as well as a silver from the Parenting Publications of America. She co-authored a nonfiction career guide for FabJob Publishing in 2006, and is seeking representation for her new novel, 'At High Tide.'

1 comment:

SpiderParker said...

I knew Darrin somewhat growing up. We were not what you would call friends more like a friend of a friend acquantince. I am glad to see Darrin has gotten published and will look into getting the book to read. I remember Darrin as a sometimes excitable but likable person full of good "cheer". It gives me inspiration to know someone I know he has made it as a professional writer. It gives me hope someday of my own works might get published one day. Long live "King Tammy". Philip Wardlow