Archive for December, 2009

From the book jacket:

C.E. Morgan studied English and voice at Berea College and holds a master’s in theological studies from Harvard Divinity School. She lives in Kentucky.”

All the Living is Morgan’s first novel.

To read her short story, “Over by Christmas,” click here.

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Live Nude Books: On their surfaces, the stories in Captive Audience focus on the lives of performers.  Did you originally set out to write a collection on this subject?

Dave Reidy: I wrote “In Memoriam,” my imagination of a day in the life of a fictional Abe Vigoda, before any of the other stories included in the collection. Then I wrote a couple of other stories that had nothing to do with performers. But the next two stories I wrote—“Captive Audience” and “The Regular”—excited me very much and gave me the idea that my stories might be larger than the sum of their parts if they were collected around this theme of performance. I was more intentional about writing performer stories after that, but I defined “performer” broadly to include a kid who plays guitar for the girl next door and a guy who makes rock posters for an audience of three.

LNB: Do you consider/think about audience when writing a short story?

DR: I do. I find it helpful to keep in mind that the words I’m writing are for readers, and to remember that I owe those readers some challenge and satisfaction in return for the time they are spending with my work. I guess I try to give the people what they want, but I can only give it on my terms. I have to write the stories that I am most moved and best equipped to write, and I have to write them as I see fit. Visiting the imagined, half-understood expectations of an audience on a story in progress is very likely to kill it. In the end, I think a person who buys a book is buying stories, but also an author’s aesthetic. The reader is gambling that the writer will create characters and tell stories in ways that please unexpectedly, ways that the reader might not have been able to order up even if he or she had been given the opportunity to do so. It seems the best that I can do is try to create interesting, honest characters, tell inventive, accessible stories, and hope those characters and stories please and surprise an audience.

LNB: What was your strategy for ordering the stories in this collection?

DR: My editor had some strong feelings on the subject. We both wanted “The Regular” and “Thingless” to be the first two stories in the collection. We thought they set the tone for what follows. My editor insisted that “In Memoriam,” as the collection’s shortest story, should sit right in the middle, and I agreed. And I insisted that “Dancing Man” be the collection’s final story. I suspected that some of the stories in the collection would strike some readers as bleak, and I wanted the collection to end on a note of redemption—whether the redemption at the end of “Dancing Man” is real or imagined is another question.

LNB: What are you working on next?

DR: I’m working on a novel. I’m about three-fourths of the way through a first draft, which means I’ve got a long way to go before I’ve got something finished. But I’m working steadily on it, chipping away each day for an hour or so before heading into work.

LNB: What have you recently read that you’re recommending to friends and other readers?

DR: I’m only halfway through Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City and I’m already recommending it to people. It’s fantastic. The Manhattan of Lethem’s imagination, inhabited by his exquisitely drawn characters, is even more exciting and more revealing than the Manhattan we know—even as I write this, I can’t wait to crack the book and get back there.

Performers take center stage in Dave Reidy’s debut collection, Captive Audience, though the characters in these stories don’t always get to stand in the spotlight.  Whether it’s in music, film, stand-up comedy, sports, or graphic arts, the people that encompass the pages of this book desire to present their work and themselves—in one way or another—to a specific audience.  And even though, at times, they seem to push away most people, these characters seek acceptance, or at the very least a connection, from someone who they hope will understand them.

Reidy uses this idea as a vehicle for motivating his characters, giving them something to strive toward.  In, “Thingless,” a boy entering high school learns an important lesson about how people perceive situations differently.  While trying to carve out his own niche and avoid getting lost in a social void, Kyle takes up the guitar, which he also hopes will help him reconnect with neighbor and longtime friend, Starlee.  She serves as his primary source of motivation, his desired audience.  When he discovers a shocking truth about what she does in her house while he plays for her in his, this becomes a story about the loss of innocence.

Which is what Reidy excels at in this collection: creating richly layered narratives that work on multiple levels.  He uses individual’s performances to tell a variety of stories.  In “Postgame,” a former NBA sharpshooter hosts a camp for high school basketball players, waiting for the opportunity to reenter the league.  The focal character in “Dancing Man,” is a musician whose claim to fame doesn’t come from his proficiency on the keyboard.  His quirky, somewhat out-of-control, dance moves allow him a spot on stage with the ska band that originally hired him to play piano.  Essentially, he becomes a sideshow, a gimmick the band needs in order to amp up its stage presence.  In both of these stories, the central characters adapt to circumstance by sacrificing their passions.  The result of which initially leaves them with a sense of isolation from others, as well as themselves.

The title story showcases this theme most prominently.  It features a character that defines isolation: a man who suffers from agoraphobia.  Unable to leave his apartment, Jim devotes most of his day to playing comedy records in a strict and heavy rotation.  When a comedy club opens in the vacant space below his unit, his attention turns toward an aspiring comedian named Tony Cascarino.  Jim listens from the safety and solitude of his apartment, following the evolution of Tony’s craft from amateur night to his spot as an opening act.  The only direct connection Jim has to the outside world comes through phone calls and visits from his dad.  When Jim begins to connect with Tony, taking the role of a pseudo father figure, he does so indirectly, maintaining a secluded existence.

The theme of isolation can be seen in each story; it acts as another thread holding together the collection.  Reidy explores this theme through subject matter and from character insight, but he also develops it through pop culture references, most of which come from music.  A layperson audience might not get all theses references, and that’s where the some of the isolation surfaces.  Whether it’s an indie rock band, like Neutral Milk Hotel, or an obscure song from a mainstream act, like Journey—the characters in these stories are very knowledgeable of pop culture.  At times, it feels like they’re a part of some semi-exclusive club, closing themselves off from others by creating their own intangible barriers.

Reidy tells these stories using crisp, clean prose.  The details and images never seem frivolous.  They work to reinforce what the characters think and feel, or they shed new light on what the characters are reluctant to share.