Monday, June 30, 2014

My First Time: Scott Sparling

My First Time is a regular feature in which writers talk about virgin experiences in their writing and publishing careers, ranging from their first rejection to the moment of holding their first published book in their hands.  Today’s guest is Scott Sparling.  His novel Wire to Wire was published by Tin House Books in 2011 and received a 2012 Michigan Notable Book Award.  Wire to Wire is a story of train hopping, glue sniffing, drug dealing, and love, set in Northern Michigan in the late 1970s.  Regular readers of The Quivering Pen will remember I counted Wire to Wire as among the best books I read in 2012; if you didn't take my advice then, you should do so now: BUY THE BOOK.  Scott's work has been supported by the Seattle Arts Commission and the Oregon Arts Commission.  He lives outside Portland, Oregon near Sucker Lake and writes in a treehouse.  Scott is also a contributor to The Night, and the Rain, and the River, an anthology of twenty-two short stories by Oregon writers, published by Forest Avenue Press.  Lidia Yuknavitch, author of Dora: A Headcase, said: "I love this book like I love the ocean.  The Night, and the Rain, and the River gets under your skin and travels your body from the first page."  And Natalie Serber, author of Shout Her Lovely Name, praised the anthology by saying: "Sweet cheating boyfriends, hopeful drunk drivers, angry little sisters, inept sincere fathers, even a lonely goose, all are portrayed with exuberant complexity in their quests for love.  These stories offer up bright light in our often overcast skies."

My First Everything

Last week was my first time kidnapping a goose.  It wasn’t easy, but I got the poop-covered thing into the BMW my boss drives—my boss Barb who thinks I should lose a few pounds, wear some blush, and get out there where I can meet a man.

Later, after my girlfriend/lover went to bed, I crushed up a bunch of mini-thin diet pills and shot them into my foot.  First time for that, also.  It burned like battery acid going in, but hit like a train.  Soon I understood the jittery buzz of flies and felt beauty open up in my chest.

A few other firsts from the very same day: Wandering around the abandoned back lot of a movie studio, I met a handsome guy with no job, plenty of money, and muscles like G.I. Joe.  He built me a boat and promised never to leave.  Shortly after that, I got stuck with my Dad up at Shaw’s place trying to pull stumps with a logging chain.  Never done that before, and it was hard on the truck, but as Dad said, “It ain’t revved until the rods are thrown.”

When that was over, I walked among the stumps of my mother’s neuron forest, looking at the clearcutting that Alzheimer’s has done.  A dog war broke out.  I tried to remember the names of my hands.  I couldn’t help but think about Tommy, who moves through my life in 4/4 time.

At the end of this long day of firsts, I sat at The Dublin and some stranger came in, leaving the door open to the night, and the rain, and the river—which happens to be the title of a new anthology of short stories from Forest Avenue Press.

And yes, I did all these things for the first time as a reader, not as a real-life participant.  But the experiences felt as dazzling, vivid, and original as real life.  They’re in my head now, holding their own beside my so-called “real” memories.  (So-called because some of my “real” memories aren’t actually true, or at least are in dispute, according to my wife, my friends, and certain photographic evidence.  Same is true with you, I bet.)

Bottom line: Who’s to say what’s true?  What matters is what feels real.  So yes, I kidnapped a goose.

And did all those other things too.  That’s the beauty of an anthology.  A novel is a house you build out in the boonies.  Sure, there are plenty of questionable characters wandering about—glue sniffers, train hoppers, and hallucinating loners, in my case—but these folks are there with your permission and on their own recognizance.

An anthology is more like an apartment on a crowded city block.  You don’t know who you’re going to meet, but everybody’s got a story.  The woman down the hall has pink toenails and a voice that’s soft like a pillow.  Across the hall, a family gets up early to spread the ashes of a departed mother.  On the other side of your place, the blinds rattle as lovers deal with loyalty and infidelity via dreams and movies.

Hang out in this building for a while and you realize several things.  For example, that a lot of stuff has been broken, and also, that you are probably not going to get your damage deposit back.  Which doesn’t matter because you really don’t want to leave.

The writers whose stories I’ve referenced, quoted, and stolen from here are Margaret Malone (goose) Tammy Lynne Stoner (mini-thins), Dylan Lee (movie lot), Steve Denniston (stump), Kathleen Lane (neuron forest), Ellen Davidson Levine (dog war), Domi Shoemaker (hands), Sage Cohen (Tommy), Joanna Rose (The Dublin), Jackie Shannon Hollis (pink toenails), Gregg Kleiner (ashes), and Jennifer Williams (lovers).  They are joined in this anthology by Gail Bartley, Matthew Robinson, Lois Rosen, Victoria Blake, Cindy Williams GutiĆ©rrez, Trevor Dodge, Alisha Churbe, Jan Baross, Christi Krug, and me in a collection brilliantly edited by Liz Prato.

Not only did The Night, and the Rain, and the River give me a chance, as a reader, to do all these amazing things I never dreamed of doing, it’s also my first time hanging out with such a diverse, and talented, and cool group of writers.  That’s a real treat.

Best of all, I hear there’s an apartment vacant, and the side door’s always propped open.  Come on in.  We’ve got stories to tell.

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