The opener is from a folk tale, and this reads like a folk tale, so do you have an interest in Appalachian folk tales?
Everything in Appalachia is a folk tale, so I love them. People around here don’t share facts and leave it at that; they tell it to you in story form. And there are some expert storytellers around here. I love a culture that carries itself in myth with comfort and confidence. Why would anyone settle for facts when imagination is right there to be used. The Greeks knew that, and so do Appalachians. Give me the Gorgon every day of the week and twice on Sunday. To hell with the octopus.
What’s so special about the connection between Strongarm Rex and Duramus and Easy Andy besides family?
Strongarm Rex is total invention, Duramus and Easy Andy are both based on people I’ve actually known. Their connection within the story…I honestly don’t know. I didn’t think of them as being connected while writing the piece. It’s deeply interesting that readers might make draw those lines. I love that. But, no, these characters are just interesting to me. While writing I did make a clear decision and agreement with myself that I wanted characters that did more than just exist within the story. I wanted them memorable. I wanted everything about this piece memorable. It was my primary motivation, once I had the title. The title came to me before the story, which is something that happens a lot with me. Then I write toward a story that fits the title. These bright and strange and intriguing people made that possible.
Do you have any writing plans for 2019?
There’s a lot happening this year. In April I’ll be promoting publication of my new novel Dysphoria: An Appalachian Gothic, out from Cowboy Jamboree Press. Then, a couple months later, I’ll be doing the same thing for my third short story collection, Absolute Invention, from Secret History Books. That’s on the promotion front. I’m nearly finished with a first draft of my first nonfiction book, The Orchard Is Full of Sound: On Breece D’J Pancake and Appalachia, which will be published by West Virginia University Press most likely in 2020. My draft deadline for that book is September 1, so I’ll be doing nearly all my writing on that project for now. During slow periods on Orchard I’m writing short stories to add to another collection called Sway. I’m not sure what the fate of that book will be, but I’m excited at the possibilities.
If you had a message for readers about this story or writing in general, what would you say?
I’d say about this story that I hope it serves as a kind of sampling of how writers in regions such as Appalachia don’t have to sacrifice everything to realism. Readers want something interesting, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with entertaining others. As for writing in general, the only true lesson I’ve learned in my three decades writing is that you have to put publication out of your mind; find a way to manage that. It’s difficult, because you also have to be sending out work if you want to share your art. The trick is keeping the two mindsets separate. When you’re doing the work, think only of the story; when you’re sending out stories or books, allow yourself to consider the publishing end of things at that time. If you mix the two, you can succeed, but the work will not be as pure as it could have been otherwise. I’ve never been willing to sacrifice that for something as passing as attention.
Do you have any previously published pieces you’re particularly proud of?
I’ve started writing a different kind of story than I used to put out there. Less linear sometimes and more magic realism sometimes and more regional. It’s been a nice combination that keeps me interested in what I’m doing. Here are a few links to some of those stories:
You can read Sheldon Lee Compton’s new piece “Her Eulogy, Etc.” in Issue Nine of The Ginger Collect!