Nick Almeida’s story “Dance of the Dump” appeared in Issue 23.1.
Where are you from and where are you now? How does (or doesn’t) place influence your work?
I’m from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. A tourist town on the Delaware River called New Hope. It’s part artist’s colony, part bucolic Shire, and part kitschy shopping mecca. I’m hugely influenced by that place, it’s strangeness, and the peculiar way River people speak. It’s my first love, and I think everything I write is, consciously or unconsciously, an attempt to understand New Hope.
What’s your number one rule of writing?
Make it fun. I’ve got nothing against devastating realism, but I’m not much good at writing it. I’ve found, if I’m not having a good time working on it, no one is going to have a good time reading it. That’s my number one rule, or mantra, as it were. Tapping into the pleasures of a reader is a significant justification for the exercise.
What is strangest about your writing process?
Compared the eccentricities of other writers, I think the laxness and inconsistency of my process is strange. So many writers have a strict voodoo: no Fruit Loops on writing days; I have to wear my dead grandmother’s wedding dress. For me, writing isn’t like casting a fishing rod. Repeatable habits or conditions don’t help me catch fish. The elements always change, and (I like to think) that keeps the stories fresh and different from one another. The only guiding principle of my writing process is: Butt in chair, and work.
Describe the lifespan of this piece: how did it start, how was it revised, how drastically did it change? What was the most difficult part of writing it?
Honestly, this story isn’t much different from its first draft. I wrote it specifically for a reading, so once I tapped into the voice, it sort of took off. Thereafter, most difficult was mitigating my propensity to go too big with the narrative habits of a first person narrator. I love to model quirks into my characters’ speech, but sometimes too much voice bogs narrative momentum or instigates any other number of problems. So I had to rap my knuckles with the ruler now and then and say, Stop telling jokes and write a story. Keeping this one from descending completely into cartoon, I suppose, is what I’m getting at.
How does (or doesn’t) this piece fit in with your larger body of work?
Though this piece takes place in a borderline absurd world, I think almost all of my work deals with class. Class in specific places. It’s not intentional, honest! I’m not a particularly preachy dinner guest. But the imagery of economic stratification sticks in my mind and informs a lot of my writing.
We love the way that Saved by the Bell anchors “Dance of the Dump” solidly in our world, despite the piece’s turn toward the magical/surreal. How do you conceptualize pop culture’s role in this piece and your writing more generally?
When I was a kid, anyway, television was the most powerful advocate and enforcer of normalcy. Of course, what was on television was a million times more bizarre than any authentic experience I was having, but I didn’t know that then. I assumed that what I saw on tv was a rubric against which my clothes, hairstyles, attitudes, manners of speech, family, were to be measured. For the girls in the dump, tv works the same way: they’re desperate for feedback on who they are, even if it comes comparatively and from something as goofy as a Saved by the Bell. Because they’re so alone, they need the instruction of tv. All kids, at a certain point, are starved for feedback. They want to know who they are, even if they’ll fight you over it later on.
What’s your procrastination of choice?
Baking bread. I’m a breadhead.
Nick Almeida is an MFA candidate at the Michener Center for Writers in Austin, Texas. He holds an MA from Penn State University, and edits fiction for Bat City Review.