You can read the full introduction to the series here. In short The Conversations with the Bookless series is designed to raise the profile of and increase the exposure of some of the emerging writers we knew were out there.
In this installment we talk to Jimmy Callaway.
After the jump check out the full interview.
Why do you write?
Because it’s pretty fun and it comes to me fairly easy. I could hand you a buncha high-minded artistic reasons, but those always sound like bullshit to me, even if they’re true.
What is the value and purpose of short fiction in Mystery/Crime fiction for you? For you personally and overall for the form and genre?
Overall for the form and genre, I’d say it’s very important, as the whole genre has its roots in Poe’s short fiction, and that form is still taught in schools as the basis for all short fiction: the quick emotional connection, the ability to be read in one sitting, etc. Personally, as a reader, I probably read more crime novels than short fiction, but I think my personal preference for brevity and minimalism probably comes from an appreciation of the short story form. As a writer, I dunno why exactly I tend to gravitate towards the short story. They can be less time-consuming, so there’s that, but generally, I just let the story be as long or as short as it wants. They usually wanna stay pretty short.
What do you most value in the fiction you love?
Escapism is a large part of it, has been since I was a kid. Y’know, being able to live vicariously through these characters, which means not having to suspend disbelief too much. Basically, plots and characters who are relatable but generally more fun to be around than I am.
What’s your favorite story written by someone else?
Christ, how do I even begin to answer this? There are far too many, so much so, my mind blanks at even the thought of it. The last short story I read that really blew me away was probably Karen Russell’s “St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.”
Who are your influences and what is your most unlikely influence?
I’ve got a lot of influences; there’s very little that I take in, good or bad, that doesn’t influence me at all. But speaking specifically literarily, my big three these days are James Ellroy, Cormac McCarthy, and Nick Tosches. With the possible exception of Ellroy, these to me are the writers working today who are the least full of shit, and who know how to economize their work for maximum impact.
As far as unlikely influences, the first time I remember thinking something along the lines of “That is what I want to do,” I was six years old and I had just heard “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Eat It” on the radio. Ever since then, I’ve developed a nearly analytic appreciation of comedy in all its forms, and I think a lot of that is translatable to my writing. The mechanics of the crime short story and of the joke are extremely similar: they are direct and to-the-point, and they attempt to elicit an emotional reaction through an uprooting of the audience’s expectations, most often in the form of a twist at the end.
What issues or ideas about fiction have been foremost in your mind of late?
I think the Internet’s influence on the very very short form is pretty neat. It seems that flash fiction is fairly unmarketable, as though no one wants to sink money into fiction that short, especially when big, fat novels have been the way to go at least since Stephen King. But now with the Internet machine, no money is necessary, so we have sites like A Twist of Noir and The Flash Fiction Offensive, wholly dedicated to flash and crime. That’s a good thing.
Who is the best short story writer that people haven’t gotten hip to yet?
Cameron Ashley and Josh Converse. These also happen to be the two guys I work with the most, my go-to guys as far as notes and edits on my first drafts. And it’s not just because they’re great guys and dear friends of mine, but they’re also two of the finest writers that it has been my privilege to work with.
What do you like most about short fiction?
I dunno. I guess I’d say that, especially over the last couple of years, I’ve just really come to appreciate the ability to tell a story in as few words as possible. In a world where nobody ever seems to shut the fuck up, it’s nice to have fiction that comes to the point.
Where are you, right now, as you’re writing these answers?
I jotted down most these answers at my day job today, but now I’m at my living room on my computer. Not very exciting, but true.
When did you start writing short fiction and what prompted you to do so?
I’ve enjoyed reading and writing since I was a little kid. I think I was about 21 when I decided to make a serious go at being a fiction writer. I’m not sure what exactly prompted me to do so, except that I was somewhat handy at it and I was probably really bored.
Of all of your stories, which is your favorite; the one that showcases best your abilities?
That’s a tough one. I’m a pretty big fan of all my stuff, at least from the last few years. I think the first story I wrote where I really felt like I was onto something was “His Father’s Instruction,” which found a lovely home at Aldo Calcagno’s Darkest Before the Dawn last year. Plot is usually the hardest thing for to come up with, but that one came pretty naturally.
Do you have any short story publications forthcoming?
Nope. I used to self-publish fanzines in high school on a copy machine, and I have done that a few times with my short fiction, although not in a long while. I figure I’ll probably do something like that again someday, just to have something to do. The few agents I’ve talked to about this stuff have told me that collections are a hard sell for an unknown writer, which makes sense.
How do you plan to rectify your booklessness?
Just keep writing. Pretty much everything in my life comes secondary to being a good writer, and that includes being a published writer (“published” in the traditional sense). Of course, I would very much like to be published some day, but y’know. You gotta write something worth publishing first.
Jimmy Callaway blogs at Attention, Children. Sequential Art.