Larry O. Dean was born and raised in Flint, Michigan. He attended the University of Michigan, where he won three Hopwood Awards, and Murray State University. His most recent chapbooks are About the Author and abbrev. Selected magazine publications include The Berkeley Poetry Review, Passages North, Big Bridge, Keyhole, and OCHO. Also a critically-acclaimed songwriter, Dean has numerous CD releases to his credit, including Fables in Slang (2001) with Post Office, Gentrification Is Theft (2002) with The Me Decade, and Fun with a Purpose (2009) with The Injured Parties.
His microfiction appears in the Autumn 2011 issue of The Battered Suitcase.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer, Larry?
I started reading from a very young age, and developed a love of language and narrative early on which came out in short stories and 'novels' I wrote. I was also a precociously talented drawer who read comic books voraciously and wrote and illustrated my own cartoons. I enjoyed listening to popular music on the radio and also started playing the guitar. By high school I was focused more on lyrics and songwriting, and it was around that time that I felt that rather than declaring allegiance to one discipline, calling myself a 'writer' seemed to encompass them all.
Why do you write?
Number one reason is, I write to please something in myself but I realize that such pleasure is hard to pin down and comes only after much agonizing. Let me add, however, that I'm not someone who revises endlessly but rather feels that it's good to get done with something and move on to the next. Nonetheless when I'm in the groove with something it obsesses me until I reach that indescribable moment when I feel it's finished. I also write for an audience but not with a particular one in mind. I like performing my work and part of knowing when something's done is based on audience reaction; sometimes it's laughter, but more so it's ineffable, more of a feeling I get in my gut or from the room itself.
Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?
I never thought in concrete terms of what it meant to be this thing, a writer. I'm sure when I was younger I saw the great range of personalities and outward modes of dressing or acting and probably romanticized some aspects of the writing life, but after awhile it became apparent that what a writer is has much to do with individual personalities and less with so-called trademarks of ways of behaving.
What do you think makes a good story?
There are many factors, but I can't boil it down to just plot or characters, because no two stories are alike. If it achieves what it sets out to do – whatever that means – then it's good.
What's your favorite genre to read?
I really enjoy well-written hardboiled fiction and satire. (There is some crossover there, I think.) By the former I mean writers such as Jim Thompson, David Goodis, James M. Cain, and Charles Willeford; I should also tangentially add the deeply psychological work of Patricia Highsmith. The descriptive bluntness and existential qualities of this genre has always appealed to me, and while it may not be reflected in my own poetry it is a constant reminder of what I define as great fiction. By the latter, such writers as Terry Southern, Charles Portis, John Fante, and Celine spring immediately to mind; I suppose you could also call it black comedy, but satire is much harder to do well than 'comic' or 'funny' fiction.
Who is your favorite author or poet?
I'll give you one apiece: Albert Camus and David Ignatow. Both were very influential to me at important times in my writing development, and both continue to amaze and inspire me.
What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
Offhand, The Cry of the Owl, The Plague, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Winesburg Ohio, Masters of Atlantis, A Hell of a Woman, The Glass Key, Babbitt, South Wind, My Search for Warren Harding, Memoirs of Hecate County. The Great Gatsby, Ask the Dust, The Mind Parasites... Individual stories – that could take a while!
What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
You could say any/all of the books, above, but Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet might be more applicable here, as well as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
I love urban environments. Not necessarily the well-established pluses of being immersed in or having access to art and culture, but the volatile nature of people in close quarters who have to get along. Others can keep the leafy serenity of the country, or the homogeneity of the suburbs to themselves; they might even find that those environments stimulate or inspire them, and I would likely enjoy reading all about it. But I prefer cities and their unpredictability. This sparks my writing and my ideas.
What does your family think of your writing?
I am an only child. My father died when I was still in high school, but he never tried to dissuade me from anything I wanted to do. My mother was always a supporter as well of everything I chose to do. I was very lucky to have encouraging and nurturing parents, and my longtime girlfriend – not a writer herself, I should add – has always been incredibly supportive and patient.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
I don't have a regimen. I used to do most of my writing late at night, because I worked nine-to-five jobs for many years and after getting home and taking care of whatever it was I needed to do, suddenly the day was done. Now that I teach, my schedule is more flexible (or erratic), and as such I have shifting periods where I'm busier for a few months, and then it lightens. My internal clock seems to be calibrated to moments of availability, but I do write as well (though perhaps not as much output-wise) through more frenetic times too.
Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
Not really. I'm able to write in pretty much any environment – I don't need absolute silence, or a manual typewriter, or to eat an apple and two avocados in order to write. I know everyone has their own routines and I find other writers' habits fascinating, but sometimes I think those habits or quirks can become crutches and impede rather then feed the process. Better, I think, to try to be open to inspiration under any circumstances, even if one has to re-train themselves in order to reach that beatitudinous state.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
If you mean critically challenging to readers, perhaps my sense of humor, which is very particular. If you mean challenging as a writer trying to achieve something, perhaps finding and expanding upon an audience.
What are your current projects?
I've just 'finished' a full-length manuscript of poems, called Activities of Daily Living and I'm shopping it around. I single-quoted finished because as I said before, I think it's important to wrap up projects in order to move on to something else, but that doesn't mean I won't tinker with certain aspects if I happen to feel inspired to do so. I'm also working on my third solo album with producer Chris Stamey of The dB's, and embarking on the digitization of music I recorded when I lived in California that has never really gotten a proper release.
What are you planning for future projects?
More digitization and possible remastering of music, as above. I'd also like to explore more possibilities for shorter thematic works. I have come to enjoy the chapbook format as a means of focusing on a group of poems on a given theme. My earliest book-length publications were chapbooks, but they were chaps by necessity, not by design.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Find what works for you, whether it's a routine or an approach. It will take trial and error, but when it's right you'll know (and feel) it. Writing for an audience is important, I think, but not catering your work to that audience so much as putting it out there to be absorbed. Anyone who says “I only write for myself” is lying because if that truly was the case, we wouldn't be reading their work. Write to please yourself, to live up to your own standards, and the readers will follow. Everyone isn't likely to appreciate you but that's perfectly fine!
Where can we find your work?
Recent chapbooks have been published by Mindmade Books and Beard of Bees; Amazon has a few older items that are still available, but a lot of my previous books are out-of-print. I have work forthcoming in online and print journals; Google me and see what transpires!