Some of you may remember that several months ago I took off chasing some dreams. I packed two suitcases and left everything behind. I was determined to get out into a world of my choosing and finally make it as a writer no matter what the costs. It’s been one hell of a trip.
Ask a handful of friends and I’m certain they’ll tell you, I’m pretty handy with postcards. Perhaps it’s the gene deep in there that makes me a writer. A desire to share even the tiniest piece of the world and adventures in it with a few quick words. It’s funny that I’m such a fan of these snippets or word trinkets yet I’ve never really taken much a look at short stories.
I have to admit, I’ve been so deep in edits for the past few months that I could barely pick up anything to read for fun. Then I came across I Carry a Hammer in My Pocket for Occasions Such As These.
Although I was never an early riser, my father always counseled me to rise with the sun.
“Early bird gets the worm!” he told me.
“Sure,” I said, “but the worm who sleeps late, lives.”
I actually sat and enjoyed reading each and every bit of it. Pure pleasure and fun in reading. Much like postcards from a friend they made me smirk and imagine the wild ride Anthony Tognazzini is on. With his first book he lets you ride shotgun on the best journey through what it is to be fully awake in this crazy modern world of ours.
Let’s chat him up and you’ll see what I mean.
Welcome to Litpark, Anthony Tognazzini!
LR: Your work gave me the impression of a mix of postcards from far flung destinations, eavesdropped conversations, modern proverbs along with some downright spiritual observations. Where do you draw inspiration for such a diverse range of characters?
AT: I’m a note-taking kind of guy. I always have a pen and paper on hand, or a notebook. In addition to writing down lines or ideas that occur to me, conversation – participated in or eavesdropped on – is one of the best sources of inspiration. Recently a friend told me about visiting the set of Sesame Street and meeting all the muppets. I wrote that down. In a bar I overheard someone say, “I love you, but I’m not calling an ambulance.” I wrote that down. I also jot down lines from travel brochures, nature documentaries, whatever. I have stacks of these notes around my apartment, notebooks filled with them. I sort through these, and see what I can build. I might start with “My dog ate my tabla,” or something about the crunch of watermelon or “You were the road I was supposed to keep my eyes on,” or “I went to the store and bought a totally bitchin’ potato masher.” Sometimes one of these will spark a story on its own, other times I’ll assemble a few with wire and string to see if I can make something unusual. Oftentimes they amount to nothing, but occasionally magic happens. It doesn’t seem like the most efficient way to work, but it’s what comes naturally to me – working with these fragments. Barthelme said “Fragments are the only forms I trust,” and I think he had something there.
LR: Ok, I can’t resist asking. But my favorite piece is the last one “Abandoned Belongings”, something in it resonated with me. How did that one come to be?
AT: I love allegories and parables, especially ones that read like riddles, or read clearly, as though designed to impart a lesson, but what’s finally revealed is ambiguous. “Abandoned Belongings” isn’t that ambiguous, because the moral is stated at the end, but the interaction with the monk is puzzling. Sometimes we look for answers and get nothing but a backpack full of tissue. I’m also interested in Zen, and Zen koans. I think I was inspired by that sort of knowing, and those sorts of forms, when I wrote that one.
LR: I’m a bit awestruck by how much story you tell with such word economy. Admittedly, I don’t read a lot of short fiction. Yet it seems that more of it is seeing the light of day now. How do you see the publishing landscape changing for writers of short works?
AT: This is probably a self-serving opinion, but I feel like it’s inevitable that we’re moving culturally toward shorter literary forms. We’re in an ADD world of quick-jump internet links, sound bites, fragments and the like, everything’s faster and more compressed – it seems only a matter of time until literature adapts to this shift in consciousness. People will always tell stories, but the telling shifts shapes. There does seem to be a growing interest in the short form, and more and more avenues for publishing this sort of work, either online, where there are scores of excellent journals, or in print with houses like BOA. Of course, there’s not much in big league publishing to indicate that this trend is catching on in a mainstream way. Novels sell bigger than ever, and it’s hard to get a book of short work published, so maybe I’m just whistling Dixie.
LR: You work has appeared extensively outside of this collection. Do you have any secrets or great tips for other writers struggling to get their work out there?
AT: Perseverance. Thick skin. Now that a lot of journals accept online submissions, it’s less of a laborious secretarial imbroglio printing copies and licking envelopes, which is nice.
LR: Who are some of your influences? (living or dead, contemporaries in the field, other forms of art altogether?)
AT: Franz Kafka, Thelonious Monk, Buster Keaton, Kenneth Koch, Lydia Davis, Tom Friedman, Donald Barthelme, David Byrne, Sarah Sze, Richard Brautigan, haiku poets, Julio Cortazar, Robert Walser, Aimee Bender, Daniil Kharms, John Ashbery, Brian Eno, Yasunari Kawabata, George Saunders, Samuel Beckett, Frank O’Hara, Leonard Michaels, Tomaz Salamun, James Tate, James Brown, Gertrude Stein, the Marx Brothers, Miranda July, Vincent Van Gough, Dean Young, Bob Dylan, Dr. Seuss.
LR: Some of the pieces have a quality like poetry or song writing. Have you tried your hand at music at all?
AT: Everything I do is guided by a love of music. I’m a music head. I listen to most everything, and make part of my living as a music journalist. Rhythm and melody is paramount for me in writing, and the way my writing sounds when read aloud is the ultimate test of its quality and durability (I’m constantly interrupting my typing to read sentences aloud). I also play guitar, sing, and write songs. I’m currently in the process of putting my band back together (the last incarnation split up last summer). When I got my Mac I started tinkering around on Garageband and recorded some rough demos of my songs (without an interface or mics or anything), which are up at www.myspace.com/skyeatsman. I also sing and play in a band that covers the music of the Louvin Brothers, a bluegrass harmony duo from the 1950s.
LR: What would you like readers to leave with as the theme of this collection? Is there a unifying thread that guided the work?
AT: Because the pieces are short, and formally varied, and were written over a long period of time in a variety of places and contexts, there’s not really a unifying thread in terms of formal composition. It’s more that the work is unified by sensibility. Because my approach is more like a poet’s than a novelist’s, my paramount concerns aren’t plot, character, and narrative trajectory, but energy, surprise, compression, and the creation of an experience that’s immediate, honest, and, I hope, emotionally true. Most of the stories are written in the 1st person, and it’s possible, even very likely, that this character can be read as the same anxious, giddy, alert but slightly dense person who is full of yearning and pain and a great capacity for love. I’m not much for autobiographical writing, but there certainly a lot of me in that character, even though it’s refracted through a fictional lens. But the difference between fiction and memoir is that memoir represents the author’s personal experience while fiction (hopefully) creates a direct, personal experience for the reader. So, ultimately, I hope this is what readers will take away from the collection – a personal experience that connects them to the themselves, the world, and the sense of possibility flowering in each.
Anthony Tognazzini’s first book, I Carry a Hammer in My Pocket for Occasions Such as These, is a collection of 57 short fictions. It was published by BOA Editions in 2007. His work has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Sentence, Hayden’s Ferry Review, the Hat, Quarterly West, Ducky, Mississippi Review, and Quick Fiction, among other journals. He’s received three Pushcart Prize nominations, awards from AWP and the Academy of American Poets, and fellowships to the Prague Summer Writer’s Workshop and Ledig House Writer’s Colony. He lives and works in New York City.
Lance Reynald is the author of Pop Salvation (Harper Perennial, release date forthcoming), the sexy, heartbreaking tale of outcasts in search of love and acceptance. In addition to The Reynald’s Rap you can read him over at TheNervousBreakdown.com. He currently resides in Portland, Oregon where he is developing a serious Bacon Maple Bar addiction and can usually be found lost in the stacks at Powell’s still in awe of it all or passing the hours in one comic book shop or another. You can friend him at Myspace. You can also friend Pop Salvation at Myspace.