In the 44th in a series of posts on 2010 short story collections entered for The Story Prize, Michael Delp, author of As If We Were Prey (Wayne State University Press), shares his approach to writing.
On my process:
Because I value my instincts over my intellect, I rarely think about process. In fact, my process, if I have one, is haphazard. I work when I feel like it, which is rarely because I'd much rather be fly fishing. If pressed, I would say that I work from something that strikes me visually at first. If a story starts to develop in my head, I immediately try to forget about it and let it fester somewhere. Months later, if it comes out, it's a story. I am not a writer who likes to write, as you can guess. I like having written, for sure. But.....I am far more interested in what comes long before the story comes into view. The images I tend to work with come from places and people seemingly less valued in this culture...people in trouble, those who are confused and sometimes dangerous. I'm drawn to the carnival nomad who is also a psychopath well before I'm attracted to the beauty queen who lives on a Texas ranch and never has a revulsive thought.
My first mentor was my father who taught me the value of tools...literally. I made things with him. Stories are made things too.
My second one came in college. I was a pre-med fool, flunked an Embryology class and had the good luck to run into Jim Tipton. Tipton was a wild man, a poet, farmer, Sufi dabbler, and above all, the most gifted teacher I have ever had. He showed me a way to take my life and put it to work on the page. Being with Jim was like living inside a thunderstorm, lightning and all.
Next came Jim Harrision. Without Harrison I would never have come to the understanding that living with large appetites is more important than writing. He did things on the page and still does, that I see as impossible, yet he does them with ease and grace. He showed me what happens when you have access to a soul which is rooted in the natural world.
On important books:
Huckleberry Finn set me off on a literal journey that is still going on.
Ninety-Two in the Shade is my annual literary electroshock therapy. I've read it every year throughout my adult life.
Today, Barry Lopez is a constant reminder of what it means to actually take up residence in the world.
Describe one of your stories:
My favorite is the title story, "As If We Were Prey"...a dark tale about what it means to live with anger and fear inside you your entire life. It's also about what happens to anyone who does something too long and snaps. It's not pretty, nor is it meant to be a lesson. It's just a look into what is possible in almost any of us, even though we won't admit it.