Yemassee Interview: 9 Questions with Steve Almond

Steve Almond’s story “The Siege” appears in Issue 23.1.

Sam Slaughter: So you’ve been writing for a while now. What’s the biggest thing about your writing process that’s changed between My Life In Heavy Metal and Against Football?

Steve Almond: What a great question, which we can loosely translate as: I have no fucking idea. I guess the biggest thing is that I can smell my own horseshit a teeny bit more. Which is good, in the sense that I’m less apt to write lazy, self-regarding sentences. And maybe bad, in the sense that I’m more inhibited, less able to play at the keyboard. I still hate writing as much as I ever did, and I still feel like a loser. Some things never change.

SS: How do you navigate the writing life while undertaking multiple roles—husband, father, et cetera?

SA: To be blunt: I write less, and less deeply. That’s not my family’s fault. Plenty of writers are able to manage the balance. But I get distracted by all the lives around me. I think about my kids and my wife and whatever dynamic we’re in the midst of. And that keeps me from long periods of imaginative endeavor. So I do a lot less fiction and a lot more non-fiction, some of which I actually get paid for. I’m trying to keep life in perspective. My kids don’t care about my creative work. They just want me to be available.

SS: You’ve got a number of DIY books out that people can only order on your website. What are your thoughts on publishing as it stands and where do you see it going in, say, five years?

SA: Actually, I sell almost all my DIY books in person. That’s by design. I like them moving into the world in a way that’s more personal. As for the state of publishing, nobody can say, really. It’s all changing so fast. I’m less interested in the business side of that discussion as I am in whether our citizens are going to remain invested in literary art. It’s an inconvenient art form to consume. That’s part of why I sell these little DIY books. They small and cheap, a kind of gateway drug for potential readers.

SS: Another question about words getting older: how do you see flash fiction contributing to the literary landscape and/or how do you see its role in contemporary fiction evolving?

SA: I LOVE flash fiction. Done right, the pieces are little bursts of empathy. Flash is likely to remain a pretty fringe genre, for reasons that elude me. But that’s okay with me. Sometimes it’s nice to be part of an intimate club.

SS: Who is writing great flash right now? What about their stuff make it great?

SA: Pam Painter always writes great flash. So does Peter Orner. I like Sam Ligon’s stuff a lot—much of it is short, if not flash. Meg Pokrass, Stuart Dybek. Heck, Ernest Hemingway, while we’re there. And George Saunders has a couple of astonishing flash pieces. Most of my favorite writers have written flash at some point. When done well, flash pieces are these powerful bursts of empathy. Oh, and Donald Barthelme! He’s a master. The Israeli writer Etgar Keret! His work is simply astonishing. Many of my favorite stories (“The School,” (Barthelme) “The Deacon,” (Saunders) “The Colonel” by Carolyn Forche etc.) are flashes.

SS: You talked about writing nonfiction more and more. You also are half of the Dear Sugar podcast. What’s that been like for you? Do you see the proliferation and/or popularity of podcasts as good for literature/literary folk?

SA: Oh gosh. I’m really more of an accidental podcaster. I really just wanted the opportunity to hang out with Cheryl Strayed, and our producer Lisa Tobin had this great idea of bringing Cheryl’s “Dear Sugar” column to the podcast format. It was a no-brainer. My hope on the show is to be able to bring literature to bear on the struggles that our letter writers present. Because literature is—among other things—a vast repository of human experience and insight. I have no idea what the relationship is between podcasts and literature in general. But I think people come to all forms of art for the same basic reason, because they want the company of a wise, true friend, someone who makes them feel less alone with their madness.

SS: To get back to your most recent book, what’s been your favorite response to Against Football?

SA: I love all the guys who tell me I have a big vagina.

SS: Did you watch the Super Bowl this year? What’d you think about it? How about that Chris Martin/Coldplay performance?

SA: No. I don’t watch football anymore. ‘Cuz when you watch, you’re a sponsor. The Super Bowl is fantastic entertainment. But it represents pretty much everything that’s wrong with America.

SS: Are you working on any book-length projects now?

SA: Book length? Yeah, I guess I am. I’m pretty sure it’s a failure, but it keeps me off the streets, so I’m going to keep going until I hate myself too much to continue.

Steve Almond is the author of eight books, most recently Against Football. He lives amid his children and his debt, outside Boston.

Sam Slaughter is the Reviews Editor at Yemassee. He is the author of the chapbook When You Cross That Line and the forthcoming short story collection God in Neon (Lucky Bastard Press, 2015) and novel Dogs (Double Life Press, 2016). He works in various capacities for Atticus Review, Entropy, and The Manual. He can be found online or on Twitter @slaughterwrites.