Today we have an interview with Paul McCormack talking about his latest book, All the Lights That Have Shone.
About the Author:
Paul McCormack is a freelance writer, occasional webmaster and interviewer. He’s had articles appear in Yahoo Sports and FoxSports.com, interviewed a wide range of cultural and popular figures from musician/actor/director/artist John Lurie, actor R. Lee Ermey, musicians John Flansburgh (of They Might Be Giants), Linford Detweiler (of Over the Rhine) and a guy who made a nightlight powered by a hamster. He’s written three books, “All Things Right and Beautiful” a novel (2004), “All the Stupid Little Children” a collection of short stories and vignettes (2007) and his most recent effort, “All the Lights That Have Shone” (released April 2012).
Do you plan everything or just let the story flow?
I guess it depends. I have a couple different ways I approach writing pieces; some are more about establishing a character or mood and those tend to be a lot more intuitive and spontaneous. Others are more plot-driven and in those cases I have specific plot points in mind that I need to connect. How I connect them is usually rather flexible depending on how I view the characters involved; how they’re evolving through the course of the story, and so on.
Do your characters ever want to take over the story?
Well, given the goofy and unfortunate kind of things that I seem to subject my characters to I’m not sure they’d want to. Who wants to be in charge of such a dysfunctional universe?
I think if the character is compelling enough it is more fun to let them run wild through the universe you’ve concocted. If you’ve constructed everything right that kind of controlled chaos makes both the character and story more satisfying.
What is your favourite food?
Oh geeze, probably some slacker staple food. Pizza or maybe a curry or something?
Are you a morning person or a night owl?
Night owl. I am the night. I am Batman.
Where do you dream of travelling to and why?
You know, that’s kind of a funny question. I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of travelling over the last few years through work and I really haven’t gone anywhere. For me it’s not so much where you go, but who you go with. The moments that I remember and have the most meaning for me personally are those moments where you can see the world through someone else’s eyes for an instant. Those moments don’t need to be in some exotic locale or event. In fact they usually are stolen moments in the most banal kinds of places.
Or if that answer is too smug then, um, I hear Thailand is nice. Phuket maybe?
Do distant places feature in your books?
Yes and no. Geographically I don’t think any are in my immediate vicinity but I try to have most of my settings feel familiar. For some reason Omaha , Nebraska seems pop up pretty regularly, so if you count that as “distant” then sure.
Do you listen to music while writing?
Absolutely. I’ll almost always have something playing or a ballgame on in the background when I’m working. When I’m locked in the house could be on fire and I wouldn’t notice. When I’m scuffling a bit with the process having something on in the background is a way for me to reset or find a different frame of reference. It’s a way to keep things fresh until I hit an idea that really captures my imagination.
Could you tell us a bit about your latest release?
Sure. It’s called “All the Lights That Have Shone” and it’s a collection of short stories. It’s a bit of a departure for me in that it’s not quite as absurd or overtly humorous as my previous works. In the introduction I go into some of the influencing factors that shaped this collection I had some really big life changes take place shortly after I finished the previous book, “All the Stupid Little Children”. There were some really amazing things that happened, from new opportunities, meeting someone who I unexpectedly fell in love with and connecting with some new and truly amazing friends. On the other hand it was also one of the most difficult periods I’ve ever gone through: losing the person I loved, the suicide of friend and mentor, health issues, etc.
Through all of the ups and downs I was writing very sporadically and in the rough patches really wasn’t able to write much at all. The stuff I was working on was definitely more somber than my earlier work and, while not being autobiographical, it was still my way of working through aspects of what I was going through. At one point I started going through the drafts and fragments of what I’d been working on and I realized that I was nearly at a full book-worth of material. It really ended up being a book that I wrote when I wasn’t planning to write a book.
That’s not to say it’s a mope-fest. It’s got talking dog in it; the Devil drives a K car and it underscores the danger posed to pedestrians by falling toddlers. That’s a good time, right?
What have you learned about writing and publishing since you first started?
I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned was actually something a brilliant artist and very good friend told me:
“Do it for the right reason. Don’t try and get ahead; just do it and make it better and make it better and make it better. I believe it’s a fallacy that if you do something that’s really great that the world will eventually find it, but still if they do it’s just like hiding a treasure in the woods and then somebody finds it. Just do it for the right reason and walk on it hard. Then maybe somebody someday will walk in and see this thing you’re making and they’ll be moved to tears, you know?”
Is there anything you would do differently?
You know, I really don’t think so. I tend to look at things in a developmental or evolutionary kind of way. I think that some of the missteps I’ve made in the past have taught me things and I think for the most part I’ve done well by those errors. The things I’ve done are artifacts of their respective periods in my life and they are what they are for better or worse.
Who, or what, if anything has influenced your writing?
I think everything influences me to some degree. Life is just such a strange collection of awe, wonder and the absurdly horrific that just being immersed in the day-to-day rigmarole could fill a thousand books. I guess that’s why I don’t usually get too much into sci-fi or fantasy when I write even though I do enjoy reading or watching it.
If we’re talking stylistically I think I owe a lot to Kurt Vonnegut and Flannery O’Connor. Philosophically and thematically I probably borrow a lot from Reformation Theology and guys like Nietzsche, Sartre, and Kierkegaard. I think the dissonance between those two extremes explains kind of the absurd tone some of my work takes. It probably also explains why I might be out of my gourd.
Anything you would say to those just starting out in the craft?
Good luck? I don’t know. Try it out. If it’s not for you, that’s fine. We all find different ways to express who we are through our work, through our art, through our relationships. As long as you’re willing to keep working at all of them including being willing to risk failure you’ll have something to contribute.
–at least that’s what my fortune cookie told me.
What are three words that describe you?
Bad with size constraints
What’s your favourite book or who is your favourite writer?
Not sure I have a favorite anything. “Crime and Punishment” was one of the first books that really seemed to click with me as far as thematic content and worldview. “Slaughterhouse-Five” was huge for me. Vonnegut’s world-weary voice was flawless; it took the concepts of sci-fi, memoir and fiction, and mixed them all together and proceeded to break about every constraint of each.
In the end I’m going to have to cop out and go with the Bible. There is so much wisdom, ugliness, humor, brutality, beauty and complexity there that most people don’t even seem to notice or bother to acknowledge. Regardless of whether you subscribe to the idea that it’s a divine book, it is really an astounding piece of literature.
About the Book
“All the Lights That Have Shone” is the latest collection of short stories by Paul McCormack. Often more somber in tone, yet still maintaining the playful, absurdist tone of his previous work, it has drawn comparisons to Vonnegut and Murakami. It features the stories “Iodine,” “The Best of Right Now,” “A Dog Named Supper,” “Always Get the Check,” “The Stars Shone Like Callie” and others.
Thank you, Paul and good luck with all your books!