David S. Atkinson’s imagination is a beast unleashed! The stories in Roses are Red, Violets are Stealing Loose Change from My Pockets While I Sleep are bizarre and hilarious, taking us into a highly peculiar landscape with scenarios that leave me wondering: Where does he come up with this stuff? Narrated with his signature intellectual deadpan (think “straight man”) and featuring labyrinthian titles that unroll all the way to near slapstick, Atkinson leads us from one outlandish situation to the next without flinching, apologizing, or justifying.
Nancy Stohlman: Finish this sentence: My book is:
David S. Atkinson: Let’s use predictive text on my phone for this one: My book is in a good time for sure but it’s just not like a lot. I think that covers it pretty well.
NS: Finish this sentence: If my book were a historical time period it would be:
DSA: A span of three minutes in which Warren Harding sneezed repeatedly just before lunch on July 27, 1921 during The Teapot Dome Scandal.
NS: Finish this sentence: If my book was a traditional cuisine it would be:
DSA: Various road food covered in Squeez-a-Snack cheese. That counts as a cuisine, right?
NS: Do you think absurdism is just silly? Or do you think the silly is getting at something deeper?
NS: When does absurdism work and when does it fail?
DSA: I don’t know if there are certain conditions either way. I always look at each completed work and make that decision whether it’s working or not. It’s a gut thing, if I can feel that it’s working then fine. If I’m even a little bit unsure, it’s not.
NS: Have you ever written realism? Do you think writers can cover the same material in each or is it cut out for something specific?
DSA: Definitely. Bones Buried in the Dirt was completely realism, the only absurdity being the absurdity inherent in human characters. I’m not sure if absurdity and realism can always cover the same things or not. They definitely have different tools and uses, but it seems like they can each approach the same things in different ways. That being said, I have switched a piece from one to the other when it wasn’t working as was. Maybe it was better suited to one approach over another, or maybe I just hadn’t found the right way to make it work in the approach I had going.
NS: You’ve published several other books, including Apocalypse All the Time, The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes, and Not Quite So Stories, which won a 2017 Nebraska Book Award. How is this book different from your others?
DSA: This one is the first book where I’ve stuck with absurdist humorous flash. The others were novels or longer form fiction. It ended up both weirder and less weird, but definitely different in starting with a certain kind of flash form. I developed a certain technique that I was going to use for most of the stories, and then stuck with that. The results were pretty different from my other fiction.
NS: You credit FlashNano for some of the impetus for this material (thanks!) and I definitely notice some of the prompts like the 13-word story, which you took in your own unique direction of course! Do you usually work from prompts or is this unusual?
DSA: I almost never use prompts, other than something that gets stuck in my head and ends up germinating into a story, if you want to consider that a prompt. FlashNano is the only time I ever really went in for prompts, useful as they ended up being. I guess I just do enough prompt writing through that every year that I still don’t pick it up much outside then.
NS: Talk about your titles, such as: “If That Waitress Sprays Me with the Soda Water One More Time I’m Going to Move to Cedar Rapids and Study TV/VCR Repair with Rod Serling.” While you were always heading in this direction in your previous books I feel you took your titles to another level here.
DSA: I’m almost not sure where my approach to titles came from anymore, I’ve been mired down in it for so long and it sprung up so much on it’s own. I wanted something that mirrored the feel of the essence of the piece without retreading the same ground as the piece, and there was a bent appeal in doing longer and longer titles for deliberately short works. I wanted to kind of just run with them like I did the pieces, and have them have a certain rhythm (often what still is stuck on my head from trying to memorize the White Knight’s poem from Through the Looking Glass: I’ll tell thee everything I can:/There’s little to relate./I saw an aged aged man,/A-sitting on a gate./”Who are you, aged man?” I said,/”And how is it you live?”/And his answer trickled through my head,/Like water through a sieve…)
NS: What I like most about your stories are your endings—they are often really short (unlike your titles) and punchy and give your stories closure in an unexpected but really effective way. Talk about endings and how it happens for you?
DSA: I’m usually looking for a final strike that causes something to reverberate for me, something kind of like a punchline or one of those buddhist prayer bowls. Sometimes I have an idea where things are going, but I usually recognize the end when I happen upon it rather than planning to get there and then I see how the whole piece feels wrapped up that way. If it feels right, I stop writing. Otherwise, the actual ending may still be waiting.
NS: What is your favorite story in this book?
DSA: I’m horrible about picking favorites. It changes with my mood, presuming I could ever pick one at all. If I had to pick, I guess I’d go with the silly one.
NS: You’ve published several books with Literary Wanderlust Press. Talk about your publishing journey with this book?
DSA: Literary Wanderlust has been such a joy to work with. We’ve had such a good relationship with the previous books that they were willing to take this one on when I described it even though they weren’t completely sure what it was. They just trusted me, which is a rare thing. They worked really hard during editing too. With the kind of references I make and the kind of liberties I take, it was really hard to figure out when I’d made a mistake or when something was deliberate. It was a real challenge, but they kept at it and really helped out a lot.
NS: Advice to writers working on a book?
DSA: When you lift that flagstone in the deserted courtyard and descend the stone steps into the subterranean garden, don’t touch a single item of the treasure you see until you grab the enchanted tinderbox at the end.
NS: Anything else you want to add?
DSA: I would like to go on the record that I have never, whether at this time or in the past, supported the candidacy of John Dillinger in his campaign to become commissioner for janitors (emeritus) in lower East Lansing. Anyone who asserts to the contrary is a liar and should be brought to the attention of my attorneys immediately, presuming I ever get any attorneys. I promise to look into that when I get more time next week.
NS: David, you are the best! Thanks for playing along!
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