Sunday, October 3, 2010

Jeff Parker's Writing Process: Bad Sentence, Boring Sentence, Okay Sentence

In the 48th in a series of posts on 2010 short story collections entered for The Story Prize, Jeff Parker, author of The Taste of Penny (Dzanc Books), dabbles in answering questions about his work.

What do you think a good short story collection should deliver?
A good short story collection should deliver the mail, two magazines (one, an extremely good issue of one to which I subscribe and another mistakenly addressed that I otherwise would never have read), a package from someone I love who rarely if ever sends me anything, bills of course (there must always be bills), and—what’s the loneliest you’ve ever been in your life? What’s the most excited you’ve ever been in your life? Could it deliver a couple envelopes of that also?

What is your writing process like?
Bad sentence. Boring sentence. Okay sentence. Where is this going? Oh that reminds me of a conversation I copied down in my notes file one day. That was a good conversation. Let me see if I can find it. Damn. Can’t find it. I’ll try and recreate it. No, that’s bullshit. Where is this going again? I need something to happen. Nothing’s happening here. I am not smart enough to write one of those stories in which people just think interestingly all the way through. Didn’t I once see a blind man come into a café and start reading a book and then right after that a deaf man come in and pop in some headphones? Could I actually have seen that? Who cares, let’s have that happen. Bad sentence. Boring sentence. Okay sentence. Now this is really a mess. I know. Convert the whole thing into a theme park designed to look like a coffee shop with actors pretending to have handicaps. No, copying George Saunders again. When in doubt, repetition. Repeat words, sentences, scenes, structures. Hope for rhythm. But it has to stay interesting. Rhythm will not be enough. Is this interesting? To who? That’s a good question. I guess to that non-existent someone I imagine reading this stuff. This actually seems probably kind of boring for that person. But maybe it’s okay if it’s boring for a little while. Sprinkle in some death? No, that’s bullshit. That death is totally unbelievable. Bad sentence. Boring sentence. Okay sentence. Come on, quit dicking around. Bad sentence. Boring sentence. Okay sentence. That’s cool. Where did that come from? I can work with that. Bad sentence. Boring sentence. Okay sentence. Just finish the thing, and it is what it is. Cut bad sentences. Cut boring sentences. Cut approximately the last page and half, because you always overwrite the story by about a page and a half.

Describe one of the stories in your collection.
Man bites off tongue fighting girlfriend’s lover. Man goes to live on prairie dog farm where he befriends animal rights terrorist on the lam. Man’s tongue grows back.

If you dabble in any other non-literary forms of expression, what do you do and how does it inform your work?
I dabble in expressing myself through checking email. It informs my work by keeping me from doing it. Sometimes I check email so well that I sit with all my email accounts open in multiple windows in front of me, going back and forth clicking refresh on each window in anticipation of someone, anyone, who may be trying to communicate with me at any given moment. It informs my work also by making me wonder what is wrong with me.