Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Keith Lee Morris Interview

Keith Lee Morris is the interview for this week. Keith is the author of The Greyhound God and a book of Short stories The Best Seats in The House and there are several short stories published.

I have to say that I would recommend both books and every short story. Even after I read the finished interview. He actually is an accomplished writer.

So, here goes...

Did you always think that you would be a writer? When did you come to realize that writing was something that you would love doing?

Let me go ahead and say first, gentle readers, that Denise already knows the answer to this question, she knows the answers to most of these questions if you want to know the truth, because she’s read just about everything I’ve ever written and known me for over half my life, all the way back to the time when we were kids in Mexico and she got so sunburned that her feet looked like hams, were in fact cooked to the point of being edible, probably, and it’s actually surprising that none of us on that high school field trip did in fact try to eat Denise’s feet, considering the amount of tequila we were consuming and the generally poor quality of the native cuisine. Anyway, what I’m saying is, Denise is a buddy from way back, so if the interviewer and the interviewee at times sound overly familiar with one another, you’ll know why.
(just for the record, my feet did not look like hams, I have no idea where that came from. I did get a sun burn. But at least I didn't get kicked out of the 'disco' for not wearing the right shoes.)

No, Denise, I did not always think I would be a writer—as you well know, my original intention was to be a drunk, and I was successful in pursuit of that goal for many years. It wasn’t until my early 20s that it began occurring to me that I might write something, and it came in response to my first really serious and long-winded bout of reading, where I was taking in everything I could get my hands on and wrap my mind around. Even after deciding I wanted to write, I wasted the better part of the next decade—I wouldn’t say I got serious about writing until I was around 30. Even now I don’t try to stick too closely to a writing schedule, and I’ll go months at a time without writing much of anything. And I’ve never loved doing it—if you’re doing it right, it’s hard work (at least for most writers), and it makes you tired. I like having written, but I don’t like writing. Kind of the same way I feel about running—I feel great after I’ve run 5 miles, but I don’t enjoy myself much along the way.

What inspired you to write your first short story and then your first book?

I think just seeing what other writers had done and wondering how well I could do if I tried. Literary fiction really helped to give shape to my life in my early 20s—when I read a book like As I Lay Dying or The Great Gatsby the world started to make more sense to me—and I wanted to see if I could contribute something to what I’ve always felt is an honorable profession. Like most writers, I couldn’t handle anything longer than a short story to begin with. I spent years trying to write decent stories, and then at some point the stories started becoming longer, the ideas just kept growing when I tried to put them down on the page, and it was at that point that I started thinking novel.

Do you think writing and story telling is something that anyone can learn ?

Do you mean, like, can anyone learn how to write, or do you mean is it a skill that can be learned? If you mean the former, I’d have to say no—for instance I don’t think the guy who answered the phone when I tried to track my wife’s birthday present through UPS the other day could learn to write, because he had no heart and no patience with anything. Some people aren’t constitutionally equipped, the same way I’m not equipped to do electrical work—I would end up getting hurt. Now, if you’re asking the latter, which I think you are, I’d say yes, definitely, and not just because I would have wasted the last decade being a writing teacher if the answer were no. I’ve seen students of mine make great strides from what I would have considered modest abilities initially. Can a writer become a genius simply by working at it really hard? I don’t know—you look at someone like Hemingway and you think maybe yes. But I’d say it would have to be rare. My guess is that when you start talking about the truly great writers, the ones who, when you read them, make you stop and think Oh yeah, that’s what great writing is like, as if you hadn’t seen it in a long time and had forgotten how to recognize it when you encountered it—well, I think those people probably have something inside of them that can’t be taught. They’ve also been taught a lot of things, I’m sure, but there’s some deeper quality at work, something that I don’t think can be absorbed simply by reading or taking a writing class.

Who or what has influenced your writing?

Jeez, could we get a little more vague? Cause I’m feeling like these questions just aren’t giving me any room to maneuver. My parents, William Shakespeare, the entire history of the world, coffee, cigarettes, the song Crimson and Clover by Tommy James and the Shondells, this Airedale mix dog named Chippy that I had when I was 10 that got run over by a car, and you, Denise—pretty much everything and everybody influences my writing. One way to answer might be to say which authors I can actually see in my own work from time to time—William Faulkner, J. D. Salinger, T. S. Eliot, Wallace Stevens, Flannery O’Connor, Cormac McCarthy, Annie Proulx—I’ve recognized all their handprints from time to time. My writer friends—especially Brock Clarke and Steve Almond—have pushed me along. And I’ve always been greatly influenced by my family and all my old friends in Sandpoint, Idaho, whom I think remain at the heart of my work.
( I have no control over the way you maneuver your answers)

Do you have a favorite author and what is it about their work that you like?

Well, Faulkner, I guess—the way he fashioned a whole world’s worth of drama and amusement out of that small place where he was born and raised. You can read Faulkner and understand everything you ever need to know about literature and you will never have left rural Mississippi. I’ve always loved Dostoevsky, too, the level of his ambition and all the craziness he was willing to explore to try to rise to it.

Are your stories and characters based on someone you know or events in your own life.

Yeah, you’d like to know, wouldn’t you. I’m sure you do know in some cases, so go ahead and tell people if you want to.
( I have yet to read about the gorgeous, intelligent brunette)

There seems to be a strong relationship between parent and child in a lot of your stories. Is this something that comes from being a father or from the relationship you have with your parents.

I think I wrote several stories that centered on relationships between parents and children even before I had my own kids, but I think the big shift is that I used to adopt the point-of-view of the child and now I adopt the point-of-view of the parent, generally.

I read a review of your short story Testimony. The reviewer said that it was among the best that she had read. I also read a favorable review of The Greyhound God over at Bookslut. Do you see all of your reviews and how do you feel about book critics.

My books and stories haven’t been very widely reviewed, so yeah, I’ve probably seen most of them. You never know what’s behind a book review—is the reviewer doing someone a favor or is he/she feeling pressured in some way or is this really the way he/she felt? I tend to rely more on the opinions of people who know me—if a book is recommended to me by three or four people who know my tastes, that’s when I’m likely to read it. And as far as my own work goes, I’m lucky enough to have several loyal readers (you’re one of them, of course) who tend to help me discover where I’m at with particular stories or novels. I trust that kind of feedback more than book reviews, because I know more about the motives behind the comments—I also have a better idea of who’s blowing my smoke up my ass and who really likes the book. If my wife likes it, I generally feel like I’ve done a pretty good job—she’s my toughest and most honest critic.

You have a new book What is the name of the book and when can we expect it out on the shelves. How is this book different from your others.?

Thanks for the opportunity to do a plug. You’re really getting good at this interviewing business. It’s a novel, and it’s called—at least so far—The Dart League King. It’s about this bunch of losers who get together to play darts in an ordinary bar in an ordinary small town in north Idaho on an ordinary Thursday night. It’s fabulous, in other words, just exactly like my other books. You should read it (them). It’ll be published by Tin House Books in October.
(Well, I am reading the manuscript right now and it is very good. I can't wait to see what happens.)

Will you be out on a book signing tour with this book, if so, where can we find you.?

I’m guessing Portland and New York, since those are the two cities in which the publisher has offices. Probably South Carolina and Idaho. Maybe Seattle. Boston? San Francisco? Las Vegas? L.A.? I’ll let you know when the time comes.
(The reason I ask is that it is always fun to go out and meet you at some of these readings. Something exciting usually happens)

You don’t have a blog of your own, I notice that there are several writers with blogs or websites. Is there a particular reason that you don’t have one?

Ignorance. Incompetence. Indifference. I wouldn’t know how to start one or what to blog about.

The last question would be…Who do you think is funnier my sister or me?

This is one of those difficult questions that’s been argued throughout the ages, like how was the universe formed. I don’t think I’m qualified to offer an opinion.
[Note to readers: the reason she’s asking this is because, at one time or another in the past, I’ve suggested that one or the other of them is funnier, and, depending on the answer, they get, like, really snooty and egotistical or else really pissy about it, so it’s better not to say anything. So just play along with me here, even though I actually know who’s funnier.]
[Additional note: They also have this weird thing where, when they’re talking to one another, they say, “My mother called me on the phone,” when in fact they have the same mother. My mother, My mother. There’s this weird territorial vibe, that’s all I’m saying, and it’s best to leave them alone. In case you ever meet them, I mean.

Well Keith, that was one of my stranger interveiws and I hope that people will read on of your books or at least a short story.
Hopefully, I will have as much influence on your readership as Oprah. I do have to say even after all your sarcastic remarks that you are still one of my favorite writers...Right up there with Sherman and Truman.


Catherine said...

I like this guy Denise. He's quick and funny. Very clear in his response, hmm he sounds like a writer. I will check him out.

You ARE getting even better at the interviewing. I would have loved to be on that field trip.


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Stacie said...

THis was a great guys need your own show!!!
I wish he would blog...he is really interesting..I will get his books!

Laura Funniestofall said...

Well I am the sister, the funnier one. I never understood why Keith was so afraid to just admit that to my sister or to my mom or to anyone in fact. It was an otherwise good interview.