Shaw’s surreal and hilarious short story ” Toccata and #&%$!!” appeared in the Autumn 2011 issue of The Battered Suitcase.
So, when did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I don't want to be a writer. I really have done my best to avoid it, and have actually succeeded at giving it up for periods of time, but it keeps coming back like a smoker's cough. What I want to do is sit at home in my pajamas, eat cookie dough and splatter paint all over the walls, but I don't see that this scenario is forthcoming.
Why do you write?
Let's stick with the smoking metaphor. Being a writer is like being a smoker: those who aren't one consider it an offensive habit, but for those who are it's barely a habit at all. Just something you do, almost passively.
Is being a writer/poet anything like you imagined it would be?
The way things have gone, I honestly can't remember how I imagined my life would be when I was younger. I know that when I talk to people about being a writer, their conceptions of what it entails are almost never in any kind of line with reality. I asked a friend of mine how much he thought writers were paid for short stories and he said $20,000 (I told him, try $500 for top-shelf periodicals). I don't reckon my preconceived notions were much different back before.
What do you think makes a good story?
*I think* the most important thing for a good story is for it to feel in some way organic. A lot of stories strive toward a certain point, a certain moral, try to tie up all loose ends and make everything have a point and purpose and be understood by the end, but that doesn't really work for me. They feel skeletal, like they've had all the meat picked off and been edited right down to the bone. Besides which, they just ring false: life doesn't work that way. I want to be reassured that life doesn't make sense, and I want to read stories that don't exactly end so much as leave me to think. My favorite joke goes like this: A severed head rolls into a convenience store and says (the joke doesn't end here but that's the best part so it's better to just imagine how awesome the rest must be).
What's your favorite genre to read?
Does short story count as a genre? It's definitely what I read the most of. If I'm going to spend time on a new book, I figure an anthology with one good story will be better than a novel with one good chapter. Almost all of my favorite authors are ones I first encountered through their short stories. As far as which shelf it's on in the bookstore, most fictional genres do just fine, except that I'm very hard to impress with mysteries. I read historical fiction if I'm hanging out with historians and want to make them laugh. In nonfiction I enjoy psychology (but not pop-psychology) and social sciences.
Who is your favorite author or poet?
Kelly Link. See also: What do you think makes a good story?
What books or stories have most influenced you the most as a writer?
Joanna Russ' The Female Man. Freud, mainly “The Uncanny,” “Totem and Taboo,” and The Interpretation of Dreams. Barthelme's ambitious 40 Stories and 50% more ambitious 60 stories. Gene Wolfe's The Fifth Head of Cerberus. Kelly Link again, particularly “The Girl Detective.” Kouhei Kadono's Boogiepop and Others. Angelica Gorodischer's Kalpa Imperial.
What books or stories have most influenced you as a person?
Any number of biographies of Queen Elizabeth I of England. The 1818 version of Frankenstein. A certain book of poetry, This Brevity by Gianmarc Manzione. The writings of Munenori Yagyuu. Gaiman's The Sandman. Once again Kelly Link, particularly “Magic for Beginners.” Also The Communist Manifesto. Oh, and Susan Faludi's Backlash.
Where/how do you find the most inspiration?
Through sacrifice. Through striving toward harmony with nature. From involving myself in conversations but not saying anything. If you want to learn a lot about people, shut up.
What does your family think of your writing?
They don't. I came from a puppy mill.
What is your work schedule like when you're writing?
More like what's my writing schedule like when I'm working. I work second shift and my only form of transportation is a bicycle. But the thing is, my best writing gets done when I have very little time to do it and during the time I do have, I need to do it secretly, as if I were sitting in public looking at porn (when people see you writing they will sometimes want to talk to you about it and OH MY GOD). I sweat all the way downtown, hop into a cafe and scratch out a few pages, go to work for 8 hours, freeze my ass off back to the 'hood, scratch out a few more pages in a bar, edit on the weekend. Stuff gets done pretty slowly. “Tocatta” took 5 months just for a first draft.
Do you have any writing quirks or rituals?
Ever seen Mystery Men with the invisible boy who can only turn invisible when nobody is looking at him, including himself? Yeah.
Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
What you need to understand is that I'm not really a person; I'm a dog. That I can write to begin with is a miracle.
What are your current projects?
Emigrating to England. Also I'm hot for meta-fiction and frame stories these days and experimenting with such, reading as well as writing. Plowing through Catherynne Valente's Orphan's Tales and finding a lot of good stuff.
What are you planning for future projects?
I want to try illustrating my own stories. I want to have a dream in which I kill one of my recurring nightmares.
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Try the patch. I'm not saying it will necessarily work, but at least you'll have tried. Write a story longhand and burn the only copy, to help yourself get used to letting go. You can save your rejections if you want to, but this strikes me as rather silly. Like they're some kind of currency or something.
Where can we find your work?
I think people who enjoy “Tocatta and #&%$!!” should definitely check out “And Points Beyond” in the 2010 Semaphore Anthology (published by the e-zine of the same name, where the story appeared in June 2010) and “Uncle Rick” on the Nil Desperandum podcast. More of my work appears in the anthologies Sick Things (Comet Press) and Daily Flash 2011 (Pill Hill Press), or online at amphibi.us, 69 Flavors of Paranoia, and Bloody Bridge Review. I keep an up-to-date list of publications on my blog.