Interview with Arthur Plotnik, whose short story, ‘Blame It On the Sun,’ is in Issue Two.
Why do you write and what do you hope to achieve in doing it?
Do we ever really know the whys? Everything from hormones to high-end aspirations are in the mix. In my 20s I wrote partly to impress my Beat and hipster peers, and— as the author also of some twenty pseudonymous potboilers— to pay the rent. In my 30s and 40s, creative writing was an escape from day-job doldrums plus some extra dough. By my late 50s, nervously leaving the 9-5 world, I now called myself simply a writer, doing nonfiction books and columns that interested me and again helped pay the bills. Now I’m free to write whatever I feel like— a beautiful privilege—whether for fun or to stave off mind-rot.
What are the major themes found in your work?
My nonfiction works have much to do with expressiveness, which I’ve defined as “an onslaught of stimulation that seizes and engages an audience.” Of course I focus on expressiveness via words, rather than, say, mooning from a car window. Nowadays I try to apply what I advised in those works and write expressive poetry, memoir, fiction, and creative nonfiction, with themes cranked out of experience—seeking love, looking for meaning, overcoming setbacks, delusions, small triumphs, aging, regret—all those eternal goodies.
What influences and inspires you most?
Like many others I get stoked by well-crafted, expressive, literary fiction, usually contemporary, often by non-USA writers. (Good nonfiction engages me, but doesn’t often send me racing to the laptop.) Studying under Philip Roth in the Iowa Writers Workshop gave me a youthful determination to write his kind of witty, fleshy, telling, sassy prose. Not that I ever could, but I could pledge to somehow animate whatever I wrote, whether fiction or nonfiction. I’ve also been influenced by my long friendship with former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins, whose wit and immense talent I’ve cheered over the years. Our association has helped sustain my literary jones—not to compete, but maybe to serve the same gods of expressiveness.
What not-very-famous writers and artists should we check out?
Less-than-world-famous author Atticus Lish, whose Preparation for the Next Life (2014) may be the novel of the century. Also, painter Mary H. Phelan at maryphelanart.com if you’d like to see into the soul of urban settings. (Plus works from her Irish period.)
What book are you currently reading?
Just read two novels by Colombian Juan Gabriel Vásquez in English translation (The Sound of Things Falling, and Reputations). He reaches deep for historical truths and existential meanings, paints vivid characters and settings, and spins a good story. But he gets verbose and repetitive in the process, and his male protagonists can seem old-fashioned in their attitudes toward women. Still, he’s an intensely intelligent and impassioned writer, with deep insight into Colombia’s tragic recent history.
What’s a piece you really like in Issue Two?
The short story “Gregarious” by Katie Stine, about marrieds trying a foursome with another married couple, had a nice tension to it: the gregarious husband’s comfort with the idea versus the wife’s initial ambivalence and later conflicting emotions. The narrative is well shaped, expressive, the dialogue credible and revealing. Stine hits the touchpoints that many long-married or restless-married readers will recognize.
Any background info to your piece in Issue Two?
A lonely bicycle trek I took decades ago along the northwest coast of France inspired my story “Blame It on the Sun.” As with the protagonist, my first marriage was breaking up, and I used a month’s work vacation to go adventuring and brooding. The trek began and ended in Paris, where I did actually sunbathe by that surreal pool floating on the Seine, as described in the tale. The rest—creative storytelling, with a true detail here and there. I wrote the story only recently, after long seeking a way to give it impact for a general reader, to extend the mood and mystery of my own experience. The solution: An aspiring, deluded writer and rejected husband who lays dying with a story in his head. What could be more fun?
Where else can we find your work?
For my books: Amazon and other online bookstores. Most libraries or library systems have one title or another. My website (see below) includes a selected bibliography from 2007 on, including these items you can click your way to:
- “Trump—A (Superlative) Legend in His Own Mind,” essay, The Morton Report, May 17, 2011, online
- “Surviving the Unabomber: A Memoir,” Airplane Reading 11/27/11; Featured piece of the week online, anthologized.
- “How to write a superbissimo thank you note for a mirific, magnanimous gift,” Opinion Page essay, Christian Science Monitor, 1/13/2012. online.
- “Say it ain’t so, Phil,” op-ed, Christian Science Monitor Book Section, 11/30/12, online
- “My Mother’s Mattress,” memoir, Narrative Magazine, fall 2012, online
- “Securing the Fortress: Notes of a Neighborhood Watcher,” essay and memoir, The Milo Review, fall 2013 Print and online.
- “Monica Before Bolivia,” short story, Split Lip Magazine, Nov-Dec 2013. online.
- “Composed Upon a Jet Bridge,” sonnet, Off the Coast,” Fall 2013. Print and online.
- “Precocious,” flash fiction, Microfiction Monday, Nov. 3, 2014, online.
- “Flat Feet,” “Lazy Eye,” “On Being Arthur Plotnik,” three poems Brickplight, Nov. 2014, online.
- “Guest Interview,” short story, 2015 Albert Camus Prize runner-up, Red Savinia Review, March 2015, online.
- “Sap Rising: A Natural History of Neighborhood.” Creative nonfiction. Mud Season Review #16, January 2016. Online.
- “Two Out of Three” (short story). A Lonely Riot Magazine, September 2016. Online.
- “Bacalhao portugues” (poem). 3elementsreview, no. 12, fall 2016. Online.
What’s on the horizon for you with your writing?
I’m working on a young-adult novel without having a clue as to what the trends or conventions in YA literature are these days. But it’s memory-based, and I’m having a ball putting my 12-year-old self, contemporaries, and childhood settings into a story. Will I send it to my agent for a try at publication? I don’t know. See next question.
Got a quote you really like?
“The book gives you the gift as you write it.” –E. L. Doctorow, lecture, Chicago, 1985. For me, especially at this late stage in my career, book publication is secondary (and often an extended pain in the ass not worth what it takes from you). If the writing of a creative work isn’t its own gift, and there’s no guarantee of income, why write it? But if it gives you the pleasures and pride of invention, language, memory, organization, completion, expression, you’re a winner before you’ve written the first strained word of a publishing proposal.