AN INTERVIEW WITH WELLS TOWER

Today we’ll be giving away a copy of Wells Towers’ Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned along with a copy of New Stories from the South, 2010. To enter, leave a comment here or on our Facebook page.

Herewith, Tower chats with us about final edits, the best piece of writing advice he ever received, and moose suicide. Enjoy!

1. We don’t really hear about Northwestern writing or Southwestern writing. Why do you think Southern writing is such a distinctive regional category?

Well, there’s probably some truth to the old bromides about the Southern oral tradition, a heritage of porch talk, that sort of thing. I do think Southern people find a particular pleasure with words, and perhaps more than in other regions, that there’s maybe a bit more play and bleed, fewer boundaries, between the way between working- and high class vernaculars, which means lots of rich, distinctive life in the language. Though there are all sorts of Southern traditions out there, a particular sort of word-glee seems to be a common bit of DNA.

2. How many stories do you send out to literary magazines? Can you describe your personal process of selecting stories for specific magazines to send off for possible publication?

Lately, I haven’t been doing much sending out. These days, it’s more that I’ve got relationships with a few editors I like and trust, which has diminished my purchases of manila envelopes.

3. Do you reread your story once it’s in print? If so, what is your reaction upon reading it?

Oh, no, never. Couldn’t bear to. I know I’d see things I’d want to change.

4. How many revisions on average does it take until you feel a story’s complete? Can you go into, specifically, your experience with “Retreat” and its appearance in New Stories from the South, 2010? Do you feel this story is finished, or perhaps there’s even more to the two brothers and their relationship to each other?

Usually it’s three or four big revisions before first publication, and then for most of my stories, I did three or four more biggies before I included them in my book. With these brothers, I am, thank god, finished.

My only real regret [about “Retreat”, Towers’ story that has been published three times now, with major edits each time] is that I wasn’t able to slip in another fine piece of moose lore I picked up in Alaska. One day, as I was getting ready to push off on a kayak trip across a big cold lake on the Kenai Peninsula, a park ranger came over and told me to beware of swimming moose. It was rut season, when the bulls go crazy. They’ll put a hoof through your boat in a second, the ranger told me, just for the fun of it. But the really interesting thing he said was that when he’s in rut, a bull moose standing on one side of the lake might suddenly get a very strong hunch that a cow moose is waiting for him on the far side of the lake, which might be as much as two or three miles away (these are big lakes). Off he’ll swim. But when he’s just about gotten to the distant shore, he’ll take a contrary notion that actually, all the ladies are probably on the shore he just swam from. So he does an about-face and paddles back the way he came. Just as the moose is finally reaching terra firma, he doubts himself, and again with the U-turn. A lot of moose, the ranger said, killed themselves this way.

As I was revising and revising this story and others, I thought often about those uncertain, waterlogged creatures. As much as I believe in the radical rewrite, I hope that someday I’ll get better at picking a single course and sticking with it. The pond is always bigger than it looks.

5. What’s the last book you loaned out that you regret giving away?

Why Did I Ever, by Mary Robison.

6. What is the best piece of writing advice that has ever been given to you?

Get in and get out.” The late Barry Hannah on the short story.

7 What is your favorite personal memory of the South?

Brown ponds in summer, the cool layer you had to swim hard to get down to.

8. Do you have any favorite contemporary Southern writers?

Allan Gurganus, Charles Portis, Padgett Powell, Mark Richard, Mary Robison, Karen Russell.

9. In her introduction as guest editor to New Stories from the South, 2010, Amy Hempel writes, “Much of what I read from the contemporary South has a soundtrack.” As a North Carolinian resident, what is your current Southern soundtrack?

Bullfrogs, crickets, dogs. If I had to pick music, Vic Chesnutt’s “West of Rome” and “Is the Actor Happy?”

10. * And the bonus q: You are stranded on a desert island with any celebrity, living only. Who would you choose?

I would drown myself rather than be stranded on a desert island with a celebrity.

Interview by
Megan Fishmann,
Publicist

20 Comments On This Post:

August 18, 2010
10:25 am
A.E. Loveridge says...

Enter me- as a Southerner living in Pittsburgh, I’ll take all the Southern writing I can get my hands on.

August 18, 2010
10:32 am
Valerie says...

Loved the comment about whether he reads his stories when they’re in print!

August 18, 2010
10:39 am
ayse says...

Three cheers for Why Did I Ever! Look forward to reading Tower’s book. Congrats on its being included in New Stories from the South.

August 18, 2010
11:05 am
Jan says...

Intriguing. Now I want to read more.

August 18, 2010
11:10 am
jennie says...

If Amy Hempel’s involved, I’m in!

August 18, 2010
1:17 pm
Kulot says...

Enter me! Been dying to read Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned! :)

August 18, 2010
1:20 pm
Emily H. says...

Great interview!

August 18, 2010
1:23 pm
Rob says...

Hehe..gotta love Wells’ response to the bonus q. A bit extreme but I can see where he’s coming from :)

Wow, if yesterday’s comp sounded exciting then today’s is even more so: a copy of the anthology AND a copy of Well Towers’ short story collection. Please include me in the draw. (and thanks for responding to yesterday’s question and confirming that comp is open to those outside the US. Excellent!)
Warmest
Rob

August 18, 2010
1:27 pm
Melanie says...

I checked Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned out of the Speed Read section of my library, but only got through a couple of the stories in time (no renewals)! I’d love a chance to savor each story. My favorite line in the stories I did read, “He watched a mouse walk out from behind the soda machine. It was eating a coupon.” -”The Brown Coast”

Thanks!

August 18, 2010
1:28 pm
Marisa Birns says...

Not from the South, but have always loved spending summers in a mountain cabin in upstate New York and telling/hearing/laughing with friends as we tell each other our stories.

When I was very little, I used to sit under the table and listen to the adults. They didn’t mind because I never interrupted. Of course as an adult, I’m allowed to sit at the table with the others!

Though did dance on one once…

August 18, 2010
1:34 pm
David says...

Great interview. Hope I win! I luv Algonquin Books!

August 18, 2010
2:13 pm
Sara says...

Well now *I* feel the need to work moose suicide into a story somehow.

(And ooh – Pick me! Pick me!)

August 18, 2010
2:18 pm
shari says...

wells tower sounds like a swell guy. really enjoying this week of interviews. thanks.

August 18, 2010
5:41 pm
Erica says...

Sounds amazing–would love to read. :)

August 18, 2010
5:50 pm
Karen says...

I love that cool brown layer of water. Mmm.

August 18, 2010
6:21 pm
Jaime says...

I’ve heard excellent things about his stories. Would love a copy!

August 19, 2010
9:44 am
Sue B. says...

Enter me in the contest please! Sounds great.

August 19, 2010
10:37 am
Chase says...

I know of that cool layer of water. The sun heats the top of the water, makes it like bath water, so you swim down to the cool and it feels good. Let all the air out of your lungs you’ll sink down and be able to sit on the bottom.

August 19, 2010
12:51 pm
Michael Carter says...

Great interview!
Please enter me in the draw.
Thanks

August 20, 2010
9:14 am
Susan says...

Can I still enter? I would love to have this!

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