“…funny and beguiling and completely original.” — Lorrie Moore
Steve Almond is the author of My Life in Heavy Metal (Atlantic/Grove, 2002), The New York Times bestseller, Candyfreak (Algonquin Books, 2005), and God Bless America (Lookout Press, 2011). His short fiction and essays can be found in The New York Times Magazine, GQ, The Wall Street Journal, Tin House, Playboy, Zoetrope, and Ploughshares. “Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched” was selected for the Best American Short Stories 2010 and has been optioned for film by Spilt Milk Entertainment. He regularly teaches at Grub Street in Boston and the Tin House Writer’s Conference. In 2011 he was the keynote speaker at Conversations & Connections, Washington D.C., held at The Johns Hopkins University D.C. campus. We want to thank Mr. Almond for taking time to be our Fall 2012 Centerfold and talk with our Editor in Chief, Rae Bryant, on the crafts of storytelling and spanking.
We had no idea you had a thing for spanking. How did you begin with paddle spanking? So David Bowie sexy.
SA: I don’t spank and tell. At least not until there’s money on the table.
Do you have other fetishes of which your readers are not aware?
SA: Yeah, but I don’t think of them as “fetishes.” I think of them as “future marketing opportunities.”
Writers generally learn to accept failure and rejection as a necessary evil to our craft; however, you seem to have embraced it and taken it to an artistic level. Tell us how you came to this practice of failure and nose-picking Zen.
SA: I guess I just took a long, hard look at my talents and decided that betting on failure was in my own self-interest. It was odd at first, having to wish for rejections. But at a certain point something just clicks, and you see that little envelope and tear it open and there’s this little passive aggressive form letter telling you how much you suck and rather than getting all defensive and grief stricken, you realize, Hey, whoever sent this is right. I do suck. Rather than fighting the pain, you lean into it. It’s like getting spanked in that way, I guess.
In your collections title story, “God Bless America,” protagonist, Billy Clamm, seems to more than “lean into” this sense of defeat, but rather embrace his stage actor dream turned Boston tour guide reality:
It was a pity that so much of the country was now run based on convenience. Or, more than that, it was really ironical. But now that Billy had hitched his wagon to the right dream, he felt much more connected to history, much more like a pioneer, though he was just starting out on his long journey west, and might someday starve and even be forced to eat another person, not literally, but metaphorically. He hoped he would never have to eat another person metaphorically. At the same time, he was aware of that possibility. (8)
How hopeful would Billy Clamm be of the recent and current political and economic failures/climates?
SA: Actually, Billy Clamm is pretty much a walking example of the “independent voter” they round up for those post-debate panels: he doesn’t think with his brain. He thinks with his heart. This is a virtue when it comes to romantic comedies, but it’s not a very smart way to elect a President. Billy Clamm is, like most Americans, a decent, hopeful guy. But he’s also incredibly wounded and gullible. And that’s what the worst candidates prey upon. They’re salesman who seduce guys like Billy without actually caring about them.
Your fiction and nonfiction delve into socio-political topics of national and diverse interest, sometimes with personal intentions and consequences, namely your take this job and shove it up Condoleezza Rice’s ass essay. Where do you lie on the fiction versus nonfiction debate? Is all fiction really nonfiction? All nonfiction really fiction?
SA: People try to complicate the fiction/non-fiction debate, usually because they want an excuse for lying to people. It’s not complicated. Non-fiction is a radically subjective version of events that objectively took place. Period. Any time you consciously make up stuff — without telling readers — you’re making fiction. Which is fine, great, blessed. Just be honest about it.
What upcoming projects do you have that you’d like your readers to know about?
SA: I’m hoping to put out more DIY books, a series of six little books of dirty stories.
You can read more about Steve Almond and his works at stevealmondjoy.com, and you can buy a copy of God Bless America at the following locations: