JI: We have physically met–as far as I can remember–one time: at the Literature Party at AWP in Chicago this year. During our brief conversation we talked mainly about our children, as we both have babies around the same age. So, not only are you a devoted father/writer, but you’re fiction editor at The Good Men Project, where, under their “About Us” page it says The Good Men Project community “is smart, compassionate, curious, and open-minded; they strive to be good fathers and husbands, citizens and friends, to lead by example at home and in the workplace, and to understand their role in a changing world.” Can you tell readers how you embody these ideals as an editor and as a writer? And how do you balance these roles with your roles as husband and father?
MS: Man, it’s hard. I’m starting to see why this is such a common question. How do you balance it? I don’t know. It’s something I’m struggling with.
As for being a “good” man, it’s about effort, I hope. I’m certainly trying. I think the column I write for the Good Men Project is pretty much about how I don’t have any answers, and how nobody really does.
JI: Your flash fictions, taken from a manuscript titled I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying are obviously interlinked, or interrelated, forming an overall narrative. Can you give us a hint as to the narrative of this text, without this being a complete spoiler? About how long is the manuscript? Or how long do you imagine it will be if it’s not already finished?
MS: Thanks for asking. The manuscript is 120 pages, all 1-page (or shorter) stories, about a man who finds out he has a 5-year-old son from a one-night stand once with a white woman. When the boy shows up, he stirs up this guy’s life of deceptions.
JI: Your novel’s protagonist, Tee, is half-Asian, and is visiting–or briefly living–in Prague. Similarly, the protagonist in your Publishing Genius chapbook We Will Take What We Can Get sounds like someone who knows Matthew Salesses very well, someone who also knows Prague well. Are there ways in which your novel is autobiographical, or at least semi-autobiographical? Why make these choices? And if I’m completely off-base here, what’s guiding the telling of this novel?
MS: The PGP chapbook is an essay I wrote in real-time, i.e. something would happen and I would sit down and write about it, and then I would wait for the next thing to happen. The novel is not very autobiographical. It’s about a half-Korean kid who leaves Boston after his uncle’s suicide reveals that his father has been sleeping with his aunt, and goes to Prague where he gets in an affair with the wife of a famous artist. He and the wife get stuck in the flood that washed out part of the city in 2002.
I was in Prague in 2004, don’t know any famous artists, and have a few living uncles and one recently deceased one who died of old age. My parents have been happily married for a crazy long time.
So what’s driving the choices? A whole whole lot of revision–for example, moving the novel back 2 years and cutting three major characters and researching flesh-eating bacteria–but mostly, interest in and dedication to the characters.
JI: Some of your published writing steps out into the surreal, absurd, even magic realist realms. Is there any particular kind of fiction you feel most comfortable working in? What makes you decide to make a story utterly realist, and what makes you veer off to a world where an island people start disappearing and reappearing in peoples’ closets?
MS: I don’t want to feel too comfortable. If I do, I know a story isn’t worth reading. I want to read something (and write something) that takes me out of my comfort zones. In Our Island of Epidemics, that happened to be a collective feeling, in a collective voice, something that seemed to be amped up by the magic.
JI: How would you say that being expatriate informs being an American? Do you consider yourself an American writer? What is an American writer?
MS: If I can make a really annoying generalization, I’d say you don’t know what kind of American you are until you leave America. Of course that’s probably not true, but it was for me and for many of the expats I know.
I would consider myself an American writer. I’m American, and a writer. Those are the qualifications, I’d say. However loosely you define being American.
JI: Atticus founder and head-honcho Dan Cafaro, referring to My Protagonist Is Matt Salesses, said something like “any writer who has a writing contest in his honor should be a shoo-in as nominee for ‘Fiction Writer of the Month’ in Atticus Review.” How did all that get started, and what are your thoughts about the stories that have posted already?
MS: I can tell you who is responsible: Matt Bell, Steve Himmer, Laura van den Berg, and Twitter. I think I tweeted that I wished someone had written a story about me, and the next day, there was this website. Then it was just a matter of: what the hell, prizes!
JI: What other projects do you have in the works?
MS: I’m putting together a collection of short stories, HOW TOs FOR THE LONELY TRAVELER, which is 9 stories and the novella. The first story is here: http://www.fictionaut.com/stories/matthew-salesses/in-my-war-novel Thanks so much for featuring me, Jamie!
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