Timmy: Did you come up with the title of this collection after putting the book together or did this idea of pathologies come much earlier in the writing?
William: I decided I wanted to be a writer when I read Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio in the ninth grade. I read it because I saw all the eleventh graders reading it for eleventh grade English and I thought I would be cool if I read what the eleventh graders were reading.
Anderson called his characters grotesques—even the young handsome ones. I always hit on a character’s pathology when I’m writing, and I see that what I’m writing are transparent little pathologies.
So someone like Ghandi—great guy, for sure—but he was pathological. No other word for it. In my story he’s reincarnated and finds work in public relations and then, inexorably, in politics.
Timmy: I found that many of these stories have surreal elements to them, but you never take these stories into the impossible. Stories such as “The Margaret Atwoods”, “Footboy”, and “Diagnosis: Mustache” seem to stand out. Could you talk about this type of writing and what draws you to this kind of hyper reality?
William: I like the story-ness of stories. Fiction shouldn’t try to be too realistic. Fiction is portrait and fiction is landscape, but fiction is not real. Stories should be an examination or dramatization of an idea or a feeling. A story should also bring a reader to know something or feel something new.
So “The Margaret Atwoods” is about three men and one woman who share the same name. Two of the men have a direct conflict about their identity. The third man’s conflict with his name is internal. And the woman named Margaret Atwood dies in childbirth. The story is about the meaning of identity, of namesaking. I want the reader to feel the frustration of identity and the acceptance of identity.
Timmy: There is an excellent tonal transition, from story to story, in Pathologies. Were you conscious of this while putting the book together?
William: A few readers have said that the stories work together as a whole, which makes me really happy. I put this together quickly. Peter Cole at Keyhole suggested that we do something for AWP in Denver since my collection with Keyhole (Ampersand, Mass.) was re-scheduled for early 2011. They’re all meant to be fun. They are pathological and deadly, but ultimately they’re jokes. A few old stories that I wasn’t including in the collection and a few new stories that I finished quickly.
George Plimpton: Could you say something of the writing process? When do you work? Do you keep to a strict schedule? *
William: I have zero time to write, so what I do is write stuff in a notebook as it occurs to me and then when I get a chance to type it I type it into a really long Word document that I keep. I pull stuff from that Word document into stories and as soon as I see something coming into shape I will focus on it.
My process is to make a story out of my notes as soon as I see a structure. Once I have a structure, I know I can finish a story. I’ll make an outline once I have most of the writing done. The outline tells me what more I need to write to make the story work—those are usually transitional elements and those passages are always a struggle for me. How can I retain the voice and tone of a story when I have to compose functional text? It’s easy to lose the flavor of what you’re writing when you’re writing connective prose, bridging exposition and action, transitioning from descriptive setting to dialogue.
I try to write a little in the morning and a little at the end of the day. I can usually work a little when I’m at the job in the afternoon.
Timmy: I know a woman named Bunny Yeager and I showed her your story “Bunny”. She was a little put off by the character that shared her name. Do you have anything to say to those people out there that have the same name as the characters you’ve created and came away feeling slighted?
William: Is this Bunny Yeager the pinup photographer? If so, I’m sorry to put her off. I never write about myself or anybody that I know to avoid such issues. But now I’ve done it with people I don’t know—Bunny Yeager and Margaret Atwood and, over at The Kenyon Review Blog, Stephen King. I should stop.
Timmy: This is a different Bunny, all together. There is some interesting use of repetition in this collection, how is this serving your stories? What kind of effect do you think it has on your readers?
William: I guess it’s a trick of poets—litany—and I’m stealing it. I’ve been doing repetition a lot lately with a novel I’m working on. It’s really effective, I think. It’s a good way to get a bunch of ideas down. You can forego stylizing your sentences if you yield to repetition. I think readers like to see pattern in what they read and a pattern of repetition is always fun (in short doses).
Timmy: The more I think about it, the more I enjoy “This Laptop Kills Fascists”. Have you started making stickers yet? Are you prepared for this story to be the mantra of independent literary press types everywhere?
William: That would make a good sticker for laptops. It’s a substitution exercise. I took the U.S. Marine Corps’ “Rifleman’s Creed”, which a lot of people know from Full Metal Jacket, and I substituted laptop in place of rifle. And then I subbed editor for enemy (naturally). Badges, posters, sticker, t-shirts—I like it.
Timmy: If you could put this collection in to the hands of anybody, living or dead, who would it be? What do you hope they would say about it?
William: I’ve got a few copies that I haven’t given away, and I suppose I could send one to Steve Martin. I’ve enjoyed his recent short novels and his memoir from a few years ago. When I was in junior high, we used to play his albums on the bus and actually read aloud from his book Cruel Shoes. I would hope he would say the stories are funny. Maybe he’d buy me lunch, teach me how to play banjo.
*(From Plimpton and Hemingway’s Paris Review interview)