Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Talking Books with David S. Atkinson, author of 'Not Quite So Stories'

David S. Atkinson is the author of "Not Quite so Stories" ("Literary Wanderlust" 2016), "The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes" (2015 National Indie Excellence Awards finalist in humor), and "Bones Buried in the Dirt" (2014 Next Generation Indie Book Awards finalist, First Novel <80K). His writing appears in "Bartleby Snopes," "Grey Sparrow Journal," "Atticus Review," and others. His writing website is and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.

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The center of Not Quite So Stories is the idea that life is inherently absurd and all people can do is figure out how they will live in the face of that fact. The traditional explanation for the function of myth (including such works as the relatively modern Rudyard Kiping's Just So Stories) is as an attempt by humans to explain and demystify the world. However, that's hollow. We may be able to come to terms with small pieces, but existence as a whole is beyond our grasp. Life simply is absurd, ultimately beyond our comprehension, and the best we can do is to just proceed on with our lives. The stories in this collection proceed from this conception, each focusing on a character encountering an absurdity and focusing on how they manage to live with it.

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Thank you for this interview!  I’d like to know more about you as a person first.  What do you do when you’re not writing?

I spend most of my non-writing time either reading or working as a patent attorney. I like to spend my non-work time with my wife and cats, but I don't really get into the shows my wife watches. So I can sit with her, I usually put on earmuffs and read and/or write while she watches. We do spend a good amount of time hiking around the Front Range, and we do like to travel. Trips in recent years have taken us to places like Mexico, France, and Egypt. We hope to visit Vietnam next.

When did you start writing?

I had to have started at some point, but I don't really remember ever not writing. I remember doing short stories and poems as a kid, even trying a novel (not completed) when I was ten or so. My parents were big readers and my dad even wrote himself, so it was something I was always around and got into early.

As a published author, what would you say was the most pivotal point of your writing life?

There are a lot of moments that were pivotal to me as a writer. Books I've encountered, classes I've taken, my MFA program, and so on. It's really difficult given all those influences to pick a single most pivotal moment. However, for Not Quite so Stories, the most pivotal moment was probably when I ran across Etgar Keret's The Nimrod Flipout in a Barnes & Noble. The cover featured a forlorn man in a bunny suit standing amidst a number of dead birds with a shotgun in his hands. That was a pretty freaky image, so I had to check the book out. The things Keret did in a story fascinated me, the weirdness mixed into daily life. I started thinking about writing stories like that, and the stories like that I'd already written. This fed into me encountering other authors like Amelia Gray, Haruki Murakami, George Saunders, and Aimee Bender. The collection kind of snowballed from there.

If you could go anywhere in the world to start writing your next book, where would that be and why?

It may sound a little morbid, but I'd like to write a book in the Paris catacombs. It's such a strange place, I can't help but think it would creep into what I was writing and result in a really interesting story. People might read it just for where it was written.

If you had 4 hours of extra time today, what would you do?

My usual answer would be to hopefully write more, though likely read more. However, we just got back from our Mexico trip yesterday. It was wonderful, we got to do things like walk around Chichen Itza and swim in an open cave cenote, but it was exhausting. The truth is today I'd probably use that time to get a little sleep.

Where would you like to set a story that you haven’t done yet?

I keep tossing around the idea of setting a story in Egypt soon after the Mubarak revolution. My wife and I visited just a few months after it had happened and we saw so many things that would make good stories. I just haven't written any of them yet. One thing was the way people were coming together to do things simply because various facets of government were too up in the air to function properly at that time. My wife and I were on a balcony in Aswan when we saw a car come around the sea road too fast and crash. No police arrived, things being too chaotic at the time for them to be able to respond to everything they needed to. Rather than wait, a crowd gathered out of nowhere. They picked the car up, put it back on the road, and sent it on its way. I'm sure I couldn't take care of myself that well in a time of crisis and it was an amazing thing to see. I'm sure there's a story there.

Back to your present book, Not Quite so Stories, how did you publish it?

I got very lucky. I attended a reading given by an author I'm fond of. I've attended enough of her readings that she recognizes me. She came over to chat and was nice enough to introduce me to her publisher. Having read a few of my stories (which happened to be in this collection), she told her publisher that she should look at something of mine. Though Literary Wanderlust hadn't been originally thinking of short story collections, they agreed to take a look. Luckiest of all, they loved the stories and wanted to publish my book. Now short story collections are a regular part of what they look for.

In writing your book, did you travel anywhere for research?

Some of the stories in this collection are quite recent, but some I've been messing around with for a decade. More importantly, the seeds that grew into many of these stories dropped at points all over my life. Though I didn't specifically travel to research, many were influenced by knowledge I picked up while traveling. "Changes for the Chรขteau" came out of a little hotel in the south of France where the manager reminded me of a French version of John Cleese's character from Fawlty Towers. "G-Men" was influenced by a tandem sky dive I did in Kansas. I wasn't specifically traveling for research, but I wouldn't have been able to do these stories without things I learned while traveling.

Why was writing Not Quite so Stories so important to you?

I loved the sense of noticing the magical within the normal world that I found in authors like Etgar Keret, Amelia Gray, Haruki Murakami, George Saunders, and Aimee Bender, that sense of remembering just how wondrous our existence actually is. I wanted to explore that too, see if I could find wonders all my own. It was a kind of reclaiming of the world back from everything that tells us there is no magic left. At least for myself, though hopefully for the reader too, I wanted to make the world marvelous again.

Where do you get your best ideas and why do you think that is?

The ideas I get (the good, the bad, and the ugly) come from all kinds of different places. "Happy Trails" was based on a nightmare I had one time. "The Unknowable Agenda of Ursines" was based on a friend commenting "we should go to a casino" after a recent run of publishing luck I'd had, for some reason getting crossed in my head with the fact that a bear had jumped on his car a few months beforehand. I think the central thread running through them all is trying to keep open to the wonder that is naturally in the world. There are so many good ideas out there and it's simply that we get so bogged down in daily life that we don't see that. We have to remember to keep seeing.

Any final words?

Hopefully not yet. I hope to keep living and writing for a long time. If I had to pick final words though, they'd probably be: "Aaargh."

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