The Writer’s Handful with Joseph G. Peterson

Joseph G. Peterson Author Photo

Mondays + Writers = Finally something to look forward to.

I first stumbled upon Joseph G. Peterson’s work with the publication of his novel, Wanted: Elevator Man. Joseph’s line-up of books (a half-dozen so far) is diverse (including a novel in verse!) and impressive. His most recent book, just released by the very fine Tortoise Books, is Gunmetal Blue. Kirkus Reviews calls Joseph “one of the Windy City’s best-kept secrets…” and says that Gunmetal Blue is “…a stark meditation on grief, Catholic guilt, and guns.” Intrigued? You should be.

Here is Joseph G. Peterson in response to The Writer’s Handful.book cover gunmetal

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

I’m on vacation in a condo overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. A cold snap grips the north, but down here in southern Florida, all is sun, reflection of light off the water, and the greenness of palm trees, crabgrass, and shrub. Because I’m on vacation, I actually have an opportunity to spend a little time in the morning writing, and I’ve been doing so each morning I’ve been down here. Today, I was working on a comic novel about an old guy who lives with his mom. In general, I’m not a very systematic writer. I sort of noodle around in the small margins of the day and usually that means very early in the morning (5:30 am) I’ll have a moment or two; or very late at night >10:45 I’ll have another moment or two. With just a few moments here and there it’s amazing how much work can get done.

What’s the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

I probably wrote my first story when I was in first or second grade. It concerned a frog hopping around the log. I remember also telling stories in class very early on in my school career, and I was always appalled at how quickly my stories strayed from the truth. It wasn’t until later that I realized I just naturally liked to fabricate tall tales. My mother recently shared with me a prospective biography that I wrote when I was five or six years old and in that biography I had said I wanted to be a writer. I have no idea where that impulse may have come from, but it proved to be prescient.

What are you reading right now?

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. When I travel on winter break, I’ve discovered that this is a good time to read a classic. Last year at this time, I read a novel by Conan Doyle, the year before that I read James Farrell’s Studs Lonigon… a great book. I’m also enjoying the short book,300 Arguments, by Sarah Manguso.

What’s the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

When I was an apprentice writer, I used to search high-and-low for the holy grail of how to do it: how to write a novel. I read every Paris Review Interview there was, and I was most interested in understanding whether the writing process over the course of a novel was difficult, extremely difficult, or nearly impossible. For me, at the time, it seemed on the cusp of impossible. What those interviews taught me was that maybe persistence and doggedness might be the best tools for completing a novel. As to all the rules that writers liked to espouse in those interviews: show don’t tell, tell don’t show, use the Oxford comma, don’t use adjectives, write first thing in the morning, use a number two pencil, keep the iceberg submerged, &c.;  I never found one that was useful for me. As a rule, rules about writing bug me. At the end of the day the only writing rule that I subscribe to is this one: It doesn’t matter how you do it… whether you stay on the track of the customary way or veer far off course… all that matters is that the final product works.

If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because…

Was it Isaiah Berlin who divided writers into two camps: Foxes and Hedgehogs? In any event, I like this binary classification, and as such I would put myself into the hedgehog camp. First of all, I like hedgehogs. There used to be quite a lot of them out along the Des Plaines river where I liked to fish, and I liked to watch them root around near their holes. Second of all, I think I’m the sort of writer that doggedly roots around his subject. You might even say, all of my books (six published so far) are an intensive rooting around the subject of what it means to be tossed out of the group or cast-out as the case may be. I study this subject mostly as it pertains to guys who have fallen out of the economy, fallen out of relevance, falling out of family, etc. I think of my broader work as concerns “The Life of Man”–and what interests me is what that life is like once the old social norms of white male status and privilege give way to a loss of power and marginalization, which, in this day and age is itself a subject that is getting cast to the margins of our literature.

Oliver Wilks Images
Source: ptes.org

 

Joseph G. Peterson grew up in Wheeling, Illinois. He worked in an aluminum mill and in the masonry trade as a hod carrier and he attended the University of Chicago. He is the author of five novels: Beautiful Piece, Inside the Whale, Wanted: Elevator Man, Gideon’s Confession, and Gunmetal Blue. He is also the author of the short-story collection, Twilight of the Idiots. His stories have appeared in numerous anthologies including, The Pleasure You Suffer: A Saudade Anthology, and Daddy Cool: An anthology of Writing by Fathers for & About Kids. He works in publishing and lives in Chicago with his wife and two daughters.

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Jack Driscoll and the Short Story (on the day after Thanksgiving)

pabs thanksgiving

A short while ago, I got to talk with Jack Driscoll, one of my all-time favorite writers, for an interview on The Rumpus. There is so much goodness here, it would take me forever to excerpt the highlights. So why don’t you just wander over to The Rumpus and give it a read? (http://therumpus.net/2017/11/its-only-a-matter-of-time-a-conversation-with-jack-driscoll/) And since it is Black Friday, or Thanksgiving Part II, you might want to consider buying a copy (or two, or three, or four) of his short story collection The Goat Fish and the Lover’s Knot from your favorite bookseller.

Wilbur Frank McNair ~ May 8, 1919 – October 11, 1974

dad and dog

My father died forty three years ago today. Do we ever stop missing those people we love and lose? In memory of him, I offer this paragraph from my essay “Finding my Father and the FBI,” recently published in my brand new book out from Side Street Press, And These Are the Good Times, and before that, Chicago Literati.

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It’s true that my dad was followed by the FBI. He was a card-carrying Communist who was a union rabble-rouser in the forties and fifties. To some, that meant he was a national threat: not true, not really. He was a bad father to his first batch of children, and—mostly—a better father to his second; this is true. The file, what I can remember of it since I can’t find it, pieced together bits of his life, mostly from years before I was born. Those bits don’t add up to the father I knew, the suburban dad with an organic garden who worked a day job in an office wearing a tie and who mowed his lawn while wearing shiny work pants and black socks and dress shoes on weekends. My dad didn’t abandon my family or steal 500 bucks from his boss or plan in secret meetings to overthrow the government with his Commie friends. My dad took the train to work. The Skokie Swift. He sometimes left the office early on summer days to go to a Cubs game. He wrote books with titles like How to Get a Higher Paying Job Now and New Careers for Teachers. He had nothing to hide, nothing the FBI needed to know.

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→I will be doing a brief reading as part of Essay Fiesta at the Book Cellar on Monday, October 16 at 7 PM, and a longer one with the poet David Trinidad at Women & Children First on Thursday, November 1 at 7 PM. Hope to see you. And as always, thanks for reading! ~ PMc←