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10 Questions for Matthew Fiander

“I am curled into the barrel of the cannon, in the middle of the cen­ter ring on this hard-packed earth. Somewhere in the stands, my son Jonah is with his father, Kirk. And as I wait for my signal, for those two taps on the side of the barrel, I remember the look on Jonah’s face from earlier in the day.” —from “The Disaster March,” Winter 2017 (Vol. 58, Issue 4)

Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
One of the first that comes to mind was about drive-thru churches. You could swing up to the window and get a blessing, give confession, purchase the body and the blood. It was pretty bad, as you might have guessed. I think I thought I was being funny and absurd in my early work, but I was really just inflicting a world—and no shortage of ill-conceived "humor"—on characters instead of telling a story about them. I like to think I've learned my lesson.

What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
The first names that come to mind are Joy Williams and Robert Olmstead. There are plenty others—Barry Hannah, Flannery O'Connor, etc.—but Williams and Olmstead cover a lot of ground for me. I don't know that I write like any of my favorite writers—which strikes me as the best way I could honor them—but I think they all share a precision of image and a lyric quality I strive for. They are all writers that just sound beautiful, and that's what gets me into the work, but then they also tell a damn story. The language travels, and takes you along. And that's what I want in my work, I suppose. I want the work to sound good, but I also want it to go somewhere.

What did you want to be when you were young?
I came to writing pretty late. Until I went to college, I wanted very much to be a sportscaster. My dream would have been to call Red Sox games or be an anchor on ESPN. But then I took one broadcasting course and found I couldn't talk to a camera with anything resembling natural human interaction, so I moved on to writing.

What inspired you to write this piece?
I owe a Chicago band called the Lawrence Arms for the title to this one. They put out a concept record about the circus about 15 years ago (and it's a great record) and it included little footnotes like one about the history of "Stars and Stripes Forever" as "The Disaster March." I've been searching ever since for a story to fit the title. It didn't take until I got the image of this woman, the human cannonball, curled up in the cannon's belly. Cannons and guns always get to be male images—They stick out! They go off!—but I got stuck on the body balled up inside, and why they would crawl in there in the first place. It started with just the story she tells the fuse man, what she imagines will happen. Then I had to find the real story around that fantasy.

Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
I grew up south of Boston, but have lived in North Carolina for a long stretch now, and I think both play different roles in my work. I think a lot of the street I grew up on, and if I have stories about children that usually comes into play, not just the location but the feel of childhood. North Carolina—its landscape, its combinations of southern culture and college towns and transplants in new neighborhoods—is a more blood-and-bone part of a story when I set work there. I think of North Carolina when I think of landscape, which leads to a certain spectrum of moods and tones in my writing, while I think of a feeling when I think of Massachusetts—one too close to home to name—that sends me in a different direction.

Is there any specific music that aids you through the writing or editing process?
This is a whole can of worms, but I'll try to keep my response contained. I stick to instrumental music, because the lyrics tend to obscure the words on the page, so it's a lot of jazz or American Primitive stuff like John Fahey. Lately it's been a lot of guitarist Marisa Anderson and the late jazz pianist Horace Parlan. Both have these distinct sounds that just click with me or carve out some space I can do the work in.

Who typically gets the first read of your work?
My wife is a ruthless editor, and I mean this in the best way possible. She'll kill what needs killing, the lines only on the page for me or no one. She also does it very kindly, sparing my fragile writer's ego. I'm also lucky to have a few close writer friends who will still trade work with me, and the stories are always much, much better for their input.

If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I would be a jazz drummer. I don't have the eye to paint, or a steady hand. I guess I don't really have any of the traits necessary to be a jazz drummer either, but damn it would be fun.

What are you working on currently?
I am polishing up a novel set in Massachusetts I hope to have completed very soon. On top of that I'm working on a few short fiction pieces. I'm trying to write stuff as short as I can right now—flash, sudden, micro, etc.—to varying degrees of success.

What are you reading right now?
I've been re-reading some books—like Robert Olmstead's Coal Black Horse and Jesmyn Ward's Salvage the Bones—to get ready for Spring classes I'm teaching. But I've also been pouring over Laura Van Den Berg's stories, which are brilliant, and I just started Victor Lavalle's The Changeling and it's unlike anything I've read in a while, a really fascinating novel.

MATTHEW FIANDER received his MFA from UNC-Greensboro. His work has appeared in the Yalobusha Review, Waccamaw Journal, Ex­position Review, SmokeLong Quarterly, Prime Number Magazine, and elsewhere. He cur­rently teaches English at High Point Univer­sity in North Carolina.

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