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Meet the Press

Describe your writing style to someone who’s never read you.
The words that keep coming up are sparse, stark, and poetic.

How would The New York Times categorize your writing?
I’m really not sure, since I don’t read it all that much anymore. We can assume, though, that Michiko Kakutani will find a way to say “liminal.”

What was the catalyst that made you start writing?
I’d been doing some form of writing since I was little, but the thing that made me really take to writing as a profession was the realization that I dislike any sort of grind. Sitting in an office for eight hours as a job is akin to giving away a third of your day to slow torture. It’s an odd reason to take to writing, since it’s hard to make a living at it—and, in fact, I don’t yet—but I love it.

4.) Your favorite—
Whisk(e)y: Bulleit Bourbon is my standby, but if I have my druthers, I like Blanton’s.
Wild animal: Gray Wolf.
Waffle topping: Butter and syrup. We don’t need to be fancy.
Poem: “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg” by Richard Hugo.
Scientist or inventor: Ludwig Boltzmann.
Broadway musical: No.
Badass getaway vehicle: My Chevy Cavalier.
Movie to watch alone: In the Valley of Elah.
Quote: “He said that while one would like to say that God will punish those who do such things and that people often speak in just this way it was his experience that God could not be spoken for and that men with wicked histories often enjoyed lives of comfort and that they died in peace and were buried with honor. He said that it was a mistake to expect too much of justice in this world. He said that the notion that evil is seldom rewarded was greatly overspoken for if there were no advantage to it then men would shun it and how could virtue then be attached to its repudiation?”—Cormac McCarthy, The Crossing.

Tell us about your favorite books or authors.
McCarthy, obviously. I love the above quote, and The Crossing, because it seems to prove to the reader the economic truth of morality, and its hopelessness—or perhaps just its struggle. My absolute favorite of his, though, is Suttree, which is a terrific book that I’m constantly re-reading. It’s so easy to get lost in his prose—the richest he’s ever written. I’m also a huge fan of Hemingway, The Sun Also Rises and Islands in the Stream, in particular. Islands is one of his posthumous works, and often derided and overlooked for that. I feel it has everything you can ask for from Hemingway, though, and encapsulates his body of work well. Rounding the trinity out is Marilynne Robinson, whose Gilead and Lila are simply gorgeous, loving, enriching books. You’ll feel better about the world for having read them (so, maybe save them for after having finished with McCarthy).

If you could witness or participate in any historical event or time period, what would it be?
Hard to say. Do I change the events? Because, you know, Hitler. Otherwise, I’d probably ride around in the Old West a bit, see it for what it really was.

Which underrepresented cause do you want to bring to our attention?
I feel, for no real biographical reason, responsible for making people aware of the effects of the drug war on the border. The reality of that situation is so many times worse than people realize.

Weapon of choice:
I like Bowie knives. It’s a compromise between the swords I loved as a child and a functional knife that can double as a hatchet.

If you could invent something that is missing from your life, what would it be?
I’d either find a way to keep my car running forever, or I’d build a teeny record player.

The perfect soundtrack to your writing:
Each project demands its own soundtrack. The only music that tends to cross over is postrock. So, I guess, postrock.

4.) Which literary figure, dead or alive, would you want to—
Take tea with: Mishima. First person who came to mind, thinking of tea.
Arm wrestle: Faulkner. “This one’s for Papa,” I’d say, and beat him.
Ice skate with: Who’s really bad at ice skating? I can’t do virtually any activity that involves putting things other than rubber on my feet. This would be an awful literary date.
Drink under the table: James Baldwin. I feel like I’d come away from said table a changed man.
Get a blurb from: Marilynne Robinson.
Beat in a duel of wits: Oscar Wilde. Guy was sharp as hell.
Have on your side in the apocalypse: Hemingway. Say what you will about his bravado; he was really hard to kill.
Write your next book for you: Now, that’s no fun.

The one thing in your writing routine you couldn’t live without:
I don’t know that there’s anything I couldn’t live without. Two very important parts of my routine are music and coffee. The task would be much harder without either.

Set the perfect scene for you to write your next masterpiece.
There’s a pot of Ethiopian Yirgacheffe going, a window with a view in front of me, and a fat stack of records to choose from.

When writing makes you rich, you will …
Buy my parents a couple houses. Maybe buy myself one, too? Or maybe just an El Camino. I like to travel a little too much to buy a house right away.

You can find Eric on Alternating Current with his collection of dark, rural Midwestern novellas and short stories, Moon Up, Past Full.

ERIC SHONKWILER is the author of the Luminaire Award for Best Prose-winning story collection Moon Up, Past Full (Alternating Current, 2015), and the novel Above All Men (MG Press, 2014), which won the Coil Book Award for Best Book and was chosen as a Midwest Connections Pick by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association. He has had writing appear in Los Angeles Review of Books, The Millions, The Lit Pub, and elsewhere. He was born and raised in Ohio, received his MFA from University of California-Riverside, and has lived and worked in every contiguous U.S. time zone.

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