Posted By jatyler - 11th April 2011
Blake Kimzey + ‘Donald Mason’s City Inspection and the Stakeout Standoff’ = MB8:
In your MB8 piece ‘Donald Mason’s City Inspection and the Stakeout Standoff’ Donald wants to honor his father by sticking it to the man (who is manifest in the city official ‘dinging him’ for not shoveling his snowy sidewalk), but his virulent standoff stakeout is also obsessive and borderline chaotic. Is Donald our hero, or the antagonist of this story?
I think it depends on what the reader thinks is heroic. This isn’t a choose your own adventure story but I think for everyone who starts reading this story Donald is the hero and then midway through a splinter occurs. When Donald begins his Stakeout some people are going to stay with him and others are probably not so sure they want to trust his motivations. This is not a political story at all but I was thinking about the Tea Party and the way socialism is misspelled at rallies and all that stuff when I was creating Donald Mason as a character. You know how people start off sounding normal and you’re listening to them and then all of the sudden you realize the person is crazy? Like they’ve tricked you into thinking they are rational and they’ve lulled you into listening because they are experts at replicating the cadence of normal conversation and sounding rational before what they are saying blooms into full blown crazy talk. I wanted this progression with Donald, for the reader to be on his side at the beginning, to sympathize with him, and by the end maybe you’re not so sure he has a handle on the situation. I was thinking about the way sound bites and hearsay and family ideology can influence the way you react to stuff, like a notice of violation from the city. Most of us would just shovel the sidewalk and avoid the fine. But for Donald Mason this was his big opportunity to stick it to the man, to activate the principals his father raised him on. And depending on how you think about the man and people who make it their life’s work to be in opposition to the man, I think will inform how this story resonates with you.
This story hinges on its push of irony at the end. We don’t want to give away too much of the plot here for readers who haven’t cracked open their copies of MB8 yet, but how important to you is the use of irony in your overall writing style?
I enjoy stories where the ending is not what you thought it might be, when the outcome is somewhat unexpected. Not in a M. Night Shyamalan-y way, where there is this big twist and you know it is coming and you’re just not sure what it is, but you’re looking for it. I try to be subtle. I want to be subtle. I like irony at the basic character level where there is a disconnect between reality, emotions, and action. I like writing characters that think they have a handle on things even when they are clearly delusional. We are surrounded with people like this in real life. Sitting down to write is a lot like this because here I am at the keys tapping away completely uncertain about the story or if it will ever find its way into the world and yet I keep going and maybe delusion creeps in and it is the delusion that saves me, that gets me to finish the story. This is the feeling I like to put into my work and I think most of my stories are like this. Confidence kind of morphs into uncertainty and the trajectory of the story shifts ever so slightly. I had a story called “Breeders” in the Australian journal The Lifted Brow last year and it was about these two boobs who are certain they can breed a Great Dane with a Pit Bull and create the most marketable/badass dog of all time called a Great Pit, and maybe things don’t go the way they planned. And like your previous question I like it if the role of hero/antagonist is called into question. So I guess irony is important as long as it isn’t predictable.
Another stylistic element here is the wealth of slash-jammed phrases in this piece: ‘Even if you discount/exclude the bellyaching’, ‘Whoa, coffee, water, whiskey/Coke!’, ‘And how many vacations/personal days can a guy take…’ What effect do you want this slash-phrasing to have on your readers?
George Saunders, for my money, is the father of the slash. I was reading his work and I loved what they did to the sentences and how the slash created a new monster-word or acted as glue for a series of interconnected, rapid thoughts. It was fun, too, as a reader to feel like he was getting away with some kind of bastardized punctuation. Gradually, the slashes started appearing in my stories. For me, slash-phrasing injects speed/energy into a sentence that I think could benefit from a little boost and mirror the feeling I want the reader to get. Mostly it comes when a character is thinking very quickly/has a decision to make and he is creating a mental list, however short. I also use the slashes when I can’t decided between words so I just throw them all into the mix because they all work at once, like a little concert/burst of words for the brief second you read them in the story.
Your contributor bio in MB8 says that you are at work on a ‘picaresque novel.’ What made you decide on this particular vein for your next project? Can you talk to us a little about your rogue hero and/or the trajectory of his/her plot?
I love satire. A Confederacy of Dunces is one of my favorite books along with Catch-22 and a host of other hilarious books (Absurdistan comes to mind). So I’m trying to write the kind of novel I like to read. I am actually picking up the novel where “Donald Mason’s City Inspection and the Stakeout Standoff” finishes. Donald Mason is my rogue hero and in the novel I’m exploring his inner life outside of conspiracy theories and actually taking him out into the world, to his job, and giving life to his romantic pursuit of a co-worker at Gino’s, the Italian restaurant where he works. Donald has a brother who comes to visit and they end up getting in each other’s way quite a bit. The thing I’m finding out about Donald is that he is actually well read up to a point and shops at the co-op and has all these theories about the world and how it works, it is just that he happens to be a little off and hopefully the slight variations in how he sees the world and how he reacts to it will create the satiric, picaresque vision for the book I’m writing.
It looks like you are also coordinating an upcoming reading/art event with Prairie Lights bookstore in Iowa. Tell us more – we want to know/attend:
I’m really excited about this. Pete Schulte is an artist who also curates the The Times Club, which is part of the legendary independent bookstore Prairie Lights in Iowa City. Pete has brought together artwork from two brilliant artists, Deb Sokolow and Travis Head for a show called “Underneath the Bunker.” There is a real narrative quality to Deb and Travis’ work. Pete thought my story and the podcast I recorded of “Donald Mason’s City Inspection and the Stakeout Standoff” would be a good “sound piece” for the show for its similar thematic elements to the artwork. So, for the entire month of April Pete will randomly play the 26 minute recording of the story 3-4 times throughout the day over the sound system at The Times Club/Prairie Lights. Later in the month I will give a live reading of the story and I think Pete is working on dates and trying to coordinate when Deb and Travis can make it to Iowa City, so the reading is TBD. But there will be copies of Monkeybicyle8 for sale at Prairie Lights and I’m really excited about that!
Read “Donald Mason’s City Inspection and the Stakeout Standoff” and 21 other great pieces in Monkeybicycle8, available here.