When You Cross That Line (There Will Be Words, 2015)
What are some of your favorite chapbooks? Or what are some chapbooks that have influenced your writing?
I honestly started reading chapbooks only very recently. I’m a terrible reader/writer in that sense, but I wasn’t as tapped into the community as I am now. The first chapbook that did something for me was Ben Hoffman’s Together, Apart (Origami Zoo Press). I dig the overall feel of his stories—they’re put together so well—and it was sad when I came to the end of the collection. I think that’s a great sign, when your reader has a reaction akin to watching your favorite sports team lose in the playoffs. Also, while not a chapbook, Sheldon Lee Compton’s flash fiction collection Where Alligators Sleep (Foxhead Books) was also influential in the sense that it made me think hard on what it meant to write a good story in a very small amount of space.
Becoming a book review editor has been a boon for me, because I’ve found out so much that I didn’t know was going on in the literary world. I love being in this place because it keeps me on my toes and it keeps me finding new, great books.
What’s your chapbook about?
WYCTL is about Florida. The stories I wrote for it all take inspiration from the Florida Man Twitter and Reddit accounts’ seemingly endless supply of Sunshine State stupid. When you go a little further, though, I’d like to think that it’s about what happens when people are pushed to their limits—when they cross the line, if you will.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one piece that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
All of the pieces were written around the same time. As far as catalysts go, the title story “When You Cross That Line” was what I used as a basis for the rest of them. I wanted a story that had someone literally crossing the Florida state line and thus setting off a number of weird experiences, et cetera. The stories aren’t connected, but that was the piece I felt I needed to open up the worlds of the other stories.
Describe your writing practice or process for your chapbook. Do you have a favorite prompt or revision strategy? What is it?
I spent a lot of time on the Florida Man Twitter page for this collection. I read the headlines, selected around 40 of them, and then copied the news stories into a document. From there, I read through them again, highlighting and marking up things I thought would be useful and in the space below the stories, I’d try to write out a couple of sentences to see how they felt. Some things I saw and went, “I need to use this. Right now.” While there were other stories that appealed to me, they didn’t make it past the design stage, I guess. They just didn’t feel right, so I left them behind.
How did you decide on the arrangement and title of your chapbook? What was your titling process for individual pieces in the chapbook?
I’ve mentioned it a little already, but the title reflects two things: first, literally crossing the state line. Florida is a weird place, and in the almost four years I’ve lived here,I’ve seen a lot of weird, weird things that would garner a lot more attention in other places. The second is the other meaning of crossing the line, of going beyond what is normal and good. The characters I wrote are the ones that are left with little and find themselves in crappy situations. At that point, they need to cross the line to exert some sort of control over the situation, whatever it is. I wish I could say I had a titling process for the individual pieces, but I didn’t. I don’t think, in general, I’m good at titling, so I tried to keep it simple. With such short pieces, I decided to try and add some general information (i.e. “The Bear in the Trunk”) so that I didn’t have to spend time explicitly doing so in the story.
What are you working on now?
I’m about to begin work on my second novel. My first, Dogs, will be published in January 2016 by Double Life Press. I will be taking part in a writer residency at Sundress Academy For the Arts in Knoxville, TN in a couple of weeks, and I’ll use that time to begin trying to put my notes in narrative form.
What advice would you offer to an aspiring chapbook author?
Read and write. Just read and write and repeat, just the same as you would if you were writing a novel, story collection, memoir, or poetry book. The need to see what other people are doing (both good writing and bad writing) doesn’t change with the medium/ genre.
What question would you like to ask future writers featured at Speaking of Marvels?
Do you have a soundtrack that you use while writing?
What kind of world do you think your chapbook creates? What, or who, inhabits that world?
My chapbook is full of odd people who live pretty crappy lives or, at the very least, are in pretty crappy situations. They’re the ones you would see at a gas station on a rural highway, pounding Miller High Life forties at nine a.m. because they can. They’ve probably also committed a felony at one time or another. They may seem imposing or scary, but they’re as flawed as anyone else.
Whose work helped you in the writing of this chapbook?
Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson is a constant source of inspiration for me. I also have to say the fine people of Florida never cease to amaze me.
How do you use computers/digital technologies in all stages of your writing process?
Most of my writing is done on a computer. I handwrite notes, usually, but the actual prose is typed up almost every time.
What was the final piece you wrote or significantly revised for the chapbook, and how did that affect your sense that the chapbook was complete?
The last piece I did major work on was the title story—I needed to push the one character a little further along so that his actions don’t seem forced. I had a friend read through it and he gave a thumbs up on the “He’s crazy enough now,” and that was about the point I knew it was done.
Who do you most hope will read your chapbook? (either an individual or a particular group of people)?
Seeing as this is my debut anything, I’ll be happy that anyone reads it.
Does your family read your chapbook? Or are they waiting for you to write a novel?
I’m sure my mother will read it. Beyond that, I don’t know.
Sam Slaughter is the author of When You Cross That Line and the forthcoming novel Dogs. He is the book review editor at Atticus Review, a fiction editor with Blackheart Magazine, and a contributing editor at Entropy. He’s had fiction, nonfiction, and book reviews published in a variety of places. He enjoys a glass of good bourbon and playing with puppies.
from “When You Cross That Line”
A man leaned against the tailgate of a Subaru that was parked a few spots from my car. If he’d been there when I walked in, I hadn’t seen him. There was what looked like dog’s neck cone, wrapped in foil, tied to the antenna of the car. I could also see stickers on the window advertising a political candidate that, to my knowledge, had killed someone.
“Buy a gator?” The man said as I walked by.
He was old and the color of a burnt waffle. The skin on his face wrinkled in ways that drought grapes had never even tried. It took me a moment to realize the dark lines that spotted his cheek under a gray beard were a tattoo. He wore glasses without lenses.
I stopped. “Excuse me?”
“Can I offer you a genuine Florida gator?” he said, slower, like I came from somewhere else. He spit and as he did, pulled the hatchback of his car open. The smell of the inside of an outhouse followed the door as it moved. Inside were four glass tanks lined up and in each, foot-and-a-half-long alligators. I looked from the gators to the man and back. It looked like there might have been blood smeared on the inside of the glass, but it had long since turned brown. What sounded like church music played on the car stereo.
“No,” I said. “No, thanks.”