This spring, we had the opportunity to ask J. David Stevens, author of I and You and Mexico is Missing, a few questions about writing, history, and, of course, love.
Caroline Leavitt, author of New York Times Best Sellers Pictures of You and Is This Tomorrow, says Patrick Crerand's stories "knocked her striped socks off."
"These stories are so jaw-droppingly unexpected. They actually remind me of Dan Chaon's stories, the matter-of-fact way that you guide us into deeply strange territory."
Read the full interview here.
Laura Krughoff is the author of the short story collection Wake in the Night and the novel My Brother's Name.
Q: You spent a lot of time living in different parts of the Midwest, and while not all of your writing is set in the Midwest, those that don’t have specific settings often feel Midwestern. I even found a quotation from David Kaplan at Loyola University Chicago who compared your writing to the Midwest when he said, "This struggle for identity, self-definition, a place in the world, is another strong feature of her work, all captured in prose as spare and haunting as a Midwestern winter." How has the Midwest shaped your view of your characters and story?
I do think of myself as deeply Midwestern. I’ve spent all but the first three and the past four years of my life in Indiana, Illinois, or Michigan, so the landscapes and people and politics and pace of all those states have shaped who I am. You asked about how the Midwest shaped my notion of story and character, and I see I answered by saying how it shaped me, but maybe those are the same question, in some ways. I think the wide, flat stretches of land and sky in the Midwest are really beautiful, but it takes a certain kind of looking to see it. On a walk with my mom once, when I was a teenager, she said, “The clouds are our mountains,” and that has stuck with me. The beauty of a cornfield and a blue sky crossed by contrails isn’t as dramatic as the beauty of mountains or oceans or the geological or ecological exuberance of other parts of the country, but it’s its own kind of beauty nonetheless. I guess that appreciation of subtlety shows up in what I think constitutes enough drama for short story quite often.
Q: I’ve read a lot of your writing over the years: your novel They Become Her, essays, short stories, and, of course, poems. A recurring motifs that I find is the accusation of madness, particularly with women standing as the accused (the female speakers in Mouth Trap, Delia Bacon in They Become Her). Can you explain what draws you towards this theme and why it remains relevant, even today, a century after Bertha Mason was locked in the attic in Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre?
I wish I could say that I am merely drawn towards madness as a theme, with the presumption of distance, a fascination informed by the power of the gaze. Madness for me, as it may be for many (particularly for women and those who have been historically disenfranchised), is more than observation, beyond investigation or a seemingly scientific attraction. There is something electric and physiological with madness made manifest internally in me. Externally, madness is always connected to containment and control of a perceived excess that must be measured, managed, and often made mute. What is the necessity of art if it isn’t mad against, and at, and from, the world that informs it? Bertha Mason remains, of course, very much alive. It is often imperative to burn our most unbearable beds and familiar confines, tear veils, scale walls, try to escape institutions that encourage a tragic demise.
While taking a much needed break from election anxiety, we interviewed author Patrick Crerand. (Hooray for the House, and special congratulations to Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Deb Haaland, Sharice Davids, Ayanna Pressley, Veronica Escobar, Sylvia Garcia, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and also to Governors Jared Polis and Lou Leon Guerrero!)
Patrick Crerand is the author of The Paper Life They Lead: Stories published by Arc Pair Press, 2018. His stories have appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Conjunctions, New Orleans Review, Ninth Letter, Indiana Review, Cimarron Review among others and have received special mention in The Best American Nonrequired Reading and Best American Fantasy anthologies. Currently, he is an Associate Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at Saint Leo University in Florida, where he lives with his wife and three kids.
Q: Right away, at the beginning of just about any Patrick Crerand story, one gets a sense of the fantastic, the magical, and the absurd. One of your stories, “The Paper Life They Lead,” was mentioned in a Best American Fantasy anthology. And, of course, like most literature, no matter the genre, there is often a more serious, human undercurrent about what it means to live in this world. But that isn’t easy to achieve with the style you are using. When writing in the realm of the absurd, one runs the risk of being too quirky, or too simplistic, or too gimmicky. Given the current moment of the world, how do you see stories of magical realism or fantasy fitting into the larger literary landscape? Is any bit of “seriousness” important?
As funny as it sounds given some of the premises of these stories, they all derive from some aspect in real life, something terrifying or troublesome that happened to me. And I think magical realism has always been rooted in the political. Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Kafka are the prime examples. But writers like Angela Carter, Rikki Ducornet, Aimee Bender, George Saunders (all of whom are much more accomplished than I am) they are all confronting real problems through different means than straight realism. When I first started writing, I tried realism but kept getting pulled into absurd premises that I realized I could take seriously and maybe I could say something about life easier than if I was writing about real life in a small town or a city, though there is nothing wrong with writers who do it. Cheever was one of those writers who could bounce back and forth, and I love his stories like “The Enormous Radio” as well as a more straightforward story like “Reunion.”