Today’s Conversations with the Bookless features Malachi Stone.
After the jump check out the interview…
Where are you, right now, as you’re writing these answers?
I write in my home office facing a brick wall but with a patio door in my peripheral vision to my right opening onto a deck and some woods. I try to write my way through that brick wall and escape to the woods and beyond the trees. There are bears in the woods. Honest there are. And they talk, too.
Who are your influences and what is your unlikeliest influence?
My son Adam asked me that same question recently for a documentary he is filming. I blanked out on so many, but a few authors I have admired over the years—and I’m talking early teens to the present—include, in no particular order, Norman Mailer, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, the Mc or MacDonalds (John D., Ross and Gregory), Mickey Spillane, Robert B. Parker, Ian Fleming, Ernest Hemingway, Flannery O’Connor, J. D. Salinger, Jack Kerouac, Hunter S. Thompson, George V. Higgins, Joseph Wambaugh, and the list goes on and on. John Gregory Dunne wrote a terrific novel entitled TRUE CONFESSIONS. I love THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN ARM by Nelson Algren.
My unlikeliest influence was the unknown carny woman in the Ferris wheel ticket booth on the last dusty, nearly-deserted day of the St. Clair County Fair years ago when I had been writing for only a short time. As I bought tickets for the Ferris wheel I saw that in between selling tickets she was editing a dog-eared typed manuscript.
Why do you write?
Because I cannot help it.
What issues or ideas about fiction have been foremost in your mind of late?
I attended Noir at the Bar—a Jedidiah Ayres/Scott Phillips production, IN COLOR—last night in St. Louis and several people called me a pornographer, smiling when they said it. Given the novels I have written, I suppose I asked for that. As an Eastern Orthodox Christian the conflicts that continue to dog me are 1.) whether I should be writing at all, and 2.) if so, what should be my choice of subject matter. In other words, wouldn’t my time and that of my prospective readers be better spent performing corporal acts of mercy like helping the poor, visiting the sick, ransoming captives and so on, or at prayer, rather than writing and reading escapist fiction about irredeemable cads and the women whose lives they invade?
A guy named Frank Schaeffer has addressed these topics from an Eastern Orthodox perspective, and while I do not compare my work with Schaeffer’s, I ultimately share his view that there is nothing un-Christian per se about creative pursuits such as writing novels. As to the second point, I am trying with my latest novel-in-progress AMERICAN BANSHEE to move away from the amoral protagonists, rude sexual humor and profanity that so many people in or out of the book biz seem to find so offensive in my writing.
I write comic novels about dark subjects and I don’t apologize for it. My first nine novels share a spiritual core hidden in a slice-of-life viewpoint that does not idealize. For instance, the wisdom the main character receives in HEARTBALM is that God is not a thug. The protagonist in ST. AGNES’ EVE is saved by prayer, and concludes, albeit after a long trash wallow in sin and its consequences, that like Candide, he should stick to his own space and tend to his own garden. The lead character in WICKED KING DICK learns that he must forgive himself in order to obtain mercy. And so on. Let’s face it, human beings in the world as we know it eat and shit and suck and fuck and eventually die. We are productive in the sense that we produce mucus, pus, sweat, feces, urine, B.O., methane gas, skin flakes and smudgy fingerprints, and finally a corpse. My novels acknowledge the fact that we live in a fallen world, a world where pride is a good thing, envy, gluttony and greed are good for the economy, anger can be managed, lust is healthy and to be slothful is everyone’s objective. A judge in an unguarded moment once asked me, “Does anybody do anything unless they have to? I don’t do anything unless I have to.” For the unredeemed in spirit, life is a tragedy. For the redeemed it is otherwise. C.S. Lewis, the Christian apologist, once wrote words to the effect that in the hereafter in Heaven, sin will never be spoken of at all, except perhaps as a joke. I want to write about sin the same way they talk about it up there.
When did you start writing and what prompted you to do so?
At the age of five I’m told I wrote a bucolic short story about a farmer who goes into a pasture to milk a cow and discovers to his chagrin that what he had mistaken for a cow was in fact the bull. A long dry spell intervened during which I completed my formal education, became a lawyer, married and was blessed with four young children. At that point, frustrated with my dead-end job, I desperately longed for the midlife career change I thought writing novels might afford. I can think of no time in my life when I was not convinced that someday I would be a novelist. Two days before Christmas 1996 I started writing and never looked back.
What do you most value in the fiction you love?
To paraphrase Bogart, all a writer owes his fans is a good read. When I sit down with a novel I am looking for escape, for the author to drop me into his world with all five senses from the very first page. My rule of thumb is that no book is worth reading if you can’t read it in the can.
How would you describe your style?
Most of my novels are written in what I call “first-person smartass.” I can sit down at the computer and call up that voice really quickly, and I love writing as that guy. The challenge for me now is to write again in the third person, as I have not done since my second novel PRIVATE SHOWINGS and as I am attempting to do once more in AMERICAN BANSHEE.
What’s your favorite story written by someone else?
It’s a tie between two Flannery O’Connor stories: A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND and GOOD COUNTRY PEOPLE.
What is the value and purpose of short fiction in mystery/crime fiction for you personally and overall for the form and genre?
Truthfully I don’t give a damn about short mystery/crime fiction. Does that sound harsh? Seriously, I believe there is a grand tradition in mystery/crime short stories. Not to be pseudopedantic, or wrap myself in the flag, allow me to assert that the originator of the short story in America and the rest of the world is Edgar Allen Poe. But scriveners beware! From Poe on down to O. Henry, Hemingway, Faulkner, Cornell Woolrich, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, and Charles Bukowski, all of whom wrote short stories about mystery or crime at one time or another, the short story writer’s life is haunted by the specter of alcoholism.
Who is the best short story writer that people haven’t gotten hip to yet?
Another tie: Pinckney and Laura Benedict. I’ll let the two of them duke it out for top honors.
What do you like most about short fiction?
Writing it? The minimalist challenge. Also the fact that you’re not married to an idea for months and months at a time. Nowadays I read more novels than short fiction. When I was a kid, short stories were still in vogue; magazines were still publishing them. It was the end of a golden age, which the Internet has now revived, in my opinion.
Of your stories, which is your favorite; the one that showcases best your abilities?
I suppose one’s most recent effort is always the favorite. My twisted darling for the moment has to be HARDASS, my entry in the flash fiction challenge on Patti Abbott’s site.
Do you have any short story publications forthcoming?
No. I wrote a couple of flash fiction challenges and am ashamed to admit having written some erotic short stories and poems that I posted pseudonymously under various assumed identities on Literotica , receiving nearly half a million hits all told. These links are available to the curious who email me if you promise not to be corrupted. I didn’t know anybody still remembered those stories until Jed Ayres mentioned one of them last night—a sensual saga involving some of my favorite celebrity targets on social media: Jennifer Aniston and the cast of THE VIEW. The trouble with Literotica is that you can’t access your own work once it’s posted to edit or delete it as you can on your own blog. I much prefer the novel form because of its complexity and richness of texture and the fact that at a certain point in the novel your characters really do begin speaking to you from your subconscious and start living out their own lives on the page. It’s hard to reach that point in a short story.
Where can readers check out some of your work?
http://malachistone.wordpress.com/, Dude. It’s all there.
What are you working on now?
AMERICAN BANSHEE most of which partial MS is posted on my blog.
How do you plan to rectify your booklessness?
Booklessness? My dear sir, I have books up the ass. My fondest hope is that I will eventually live long enough to read all the books I have ever bought. It’s an expression of my eternal optimism that I am still buying books and looking for more.
You have a couple of completed manuscripts available on your site. Care to tell us about them? What has the reception been to them so far?
I love comments, especially the negative ones, which I tend to believe are the more sincere. Literotica.com has drawn the most comments, oddly enough. It’s great fun to spar with the trolls who savage your work on that site. I may have gotten a bit carried away with some of my more intemperate rejoinders. I have always believed that if your writing is powerful enough to evoke a visceral response in someone, you’re doing your job as a writer. I would invite all your readers to sample my work and comment away. Thanks for the opportunity to flog my blog.
Malachi Stone, hard-hitting attorney by day, prolific novelist by night. Check out his website INTERMINABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A SILENT MAN for other stories and more.