Court Merrigan is a writer and world travelor. I was first drawn to his stories by the strong sense of place, which is familiar, and at the same time, often exotic. He blogs about writing and life here.
Me: Describe your writing for me: what is a “Court Merrigan story”?
Court: I take characters, bottle them up in a shitty situation, shake well, then minutely record the results.
Me: How important is sense of place to you, as a writer?
Court: Phenomenally important. I normally start with a place, usually even before a story idea, or even a character.
I lived in East Asia for a decade, so a lot of what I'm writing is set in real or imaginary places there. But I'm also from an unknown region of the country called Wyobraska, whose dust and wind bubbles in my blood. Its long empty spaces run through pretty much everything I've ever written.
Me: Have you found that teaching affects your own writing?
Court: Well, I don't teach writing, so not in that sense. I will say that a classroom does offer some insights into how people act under pressure, though. I also have learned a lot about how to be professional from teaching. When you step into a classroom, it doesn't matter how you feel; you have to put on a show that gets your content across. Getting up to write each day is much the same. You have to do it - or at least try to do it - no matter how you feel.
Me: Can you tell me a little about your writing routine?
Court:Now that our ten-month old is (finally!) sleeping through the night, I'm back to getting up at 4 or 5 and getting a few hours of writing in before the day job. I also write as much as I can on weekends and holidays but I've got kids and long ago promised myself that I'd put down the pen when one of them toddled into the room. Turns out, they toddle into the room a lot.
Me: As a blogger and writer, myself, let me ask: how useful do you find blogging to be for a writer?
Court: It has been fantastic for getting to know other writers. Unless you've already got a big name, I think it's pretty unthinkable that you wouldn't have an online presence as a writer, where people can go to read more of your stuff. For example, http://courtmerrigan.wordpress.com/short-stories/
I track all my rejection on the blog and archive them on a Failure page. This has been tremendously cathartic for me. I find that once I blog about a rejection, I never think about it again.
Having said that, writing quality blog posts is a lot of work. I don't put nearly so much effort into them as I did when I was starting out. I post pictures. I don't write nearly as many reviews as I should.
Me: I’ve noticed that you’ve placed some excerpts from your novel manuscript at various journals (Fried Chicken & Coffee, decomP, and Midwestern Gothic). Can you tell me a little about this novel?
Court: In common with many others, I've been semi-obsessed with the apocalyptic for some time now. I think it has something to do with growing up in the Reagan-era 80s, the nukes piling up, plus the stack of truck-stop pulp fiction I read as a kid, mutants warring in a seared nuclear wasteland &c.
These days, though, nuclear armageddon, zombie apocalypse, a world-searing pandemic - those seem to me less likely scenarios for the end times than a slow free-fall into barbarity from our present peak of effortless interconnection. What happens to ordinary folks, to the sons and daughters of ordinary folks, when their world winds down around them? When the infrastructure of the infinitely wired past remains before them, untouchable?
So I took 4 kids, abandoned by their mother, left defenseless by a weak alcoholic father, threw them in that cauldron, and saw how far they'd go to stay with each other. Pretty far, I discovered
I finished the novel a little over a year ago and immediately sent it out to a slew of agents. Didn't get much response, so I divvied the manuscript up and started sending excerpts out. Rusty Barnes, Jason Jordan, and the folks at Midwestern Gothic were good enough to pick three of these up. A few other pieces are circulating which I hope will see the light of day, too. I'm hoping that with a few credits such as these, the manuscript might attract a little more interest this time. Here's hoping!
Me: How has being a father influenced your writing?
Court: As I type this, I figure I've got about more 10 minutes to work before my oldest gets up and needs fed and watered. Kids hem you in, no question.
And yet it is wonderful to be interrupted by by a slobbering 10-month old.
I'm one of those who willingly retreats for whole days into the sanctuary of your head. My kids won't allow me to stay there that long, though. I am thankful for it.
Me: Who are your biggest influences?
Court: Among the dead: Hem, for being source of nearly everything. I haven't read him actively in years, but can still quote whole paragraphs from memory. Faulkner, for showing me how language can be pushed its utmost extremes and still tell a story. And Nabokov, for being an absolutely inimitable exemplar of what beauty looks like on the page.
Among the living, I was thrown for a loop last year when I read everything Scott Wolven wrote. That guy has inherited the mantle of Hem and cross-pollinated it with some Cormac McCarthy and Leonard Elmore ("If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it"), resurrected the muscle and guts to heartbreak and noir. A couple of favorites of his you can find online:
"Everything Tastes Like Whiskey"
"News About Yourself"
Will Christopher Baer's vastly underrated Kiss Me, Judas also showed me some of the lyrical possibilities inherent in "genre" fiction. Same with Daniel Woodrell.
I'm also a devoted student of Lorrie Moore. She's heartbreakingly funny.
Me: Who’s writing the killer fiction these days? Who will history remember?
Scott Wolven, for sure.
And there's Frank Bill. This guy is a true original. I can't peg his literary genealogy. I'm not sure he has one. He's got a book out now; here's a couple great ones online:
Brad Watson, who lives down the road from me in Laramie, is writing short stories as well as anyone living.
Roxane Gay is doing some really really fascinating things with the short story form. She's on her way to great things, I'm sure of it. Check out the use of Venn diagrams in this one: "Between Things"
Other writers I follow around the internet are Brad Green, Matthew C. Funk, David James Keaton, Marc Horne, Paolo Bacigalupi, Stephen Graham Jones, Keith Rawson, David Cranmer, Rion Amilcar Scott, Tamara Linse, and Rusty Barnes.
No idea who history will remember; I'd like folks to think will be reading Controlled Burn, by Scott Wolven, but more than likely it will be something by George RR Martin on account of his selling a bajillion copies.
Me: What are you working on now/next?
Court: I have four short stories to finish - three crime-ish, one science fictionish - and then I really want to get back to this novel I started more than a year ago. I have one chapter and a whole lot of research done. Now I just need to devote my early mornings to finishing the damn thing.
It is going to be a fantasy novel set in a time and place that, so far as I know, is as yet unmined by literary fortune-seekers. That's all I can