Seamus Scanlon: An Interview
I first heard about Seamus at AWP2014, in Seattle, WA. Artist-and-Residence, Doriana and myself had just wandered up to former contributor, Jody Thompson’s booth at the bookfair. She was staffing the Cairn Press booth. After spending the day making our way to every table we could, arms laden with multiple bags of bought and given books, we were done–making our last stop before heading out. Jody gave me the low down on Cairn, a wonderful press and introduced me to Joshua Cochran–the founder of the press. While he may not agree with me, hearing his story about why and how he started Cairn really impressed me, and forever emblazoned the image of him as a guy on a mission to better the publishing industry. Jody told us we had to come back in an hour and meet Seamus Scanlon, one of their authors–that he’d be perfect to talk to for this upcoming issue. Tired and hungry, we left and in no time I was sloping up egg and rice in a local Filipino diner. I hadn’t really planned on going back, but with some degree of Catholic guilt I opened up Seamus’ book and read the first piece [reprinted in this issue, LO12: Swift]. Needless to say, we went back.
I am of the sincere belief that Seamus Scanlon is one of the best writers in our indie community today. His pieces often focus on crime-fiction, but just as easily focus on nervous dates in preteen-punkpocalypse-Belfast. The stories, the words, the personality; all carry with it a confident familiarity with the Troubles. Make sure you check out Seamus’ work, I promise you won’t regret it.
-Mike Joyce, Editor-in-Chief
Interview w/ SEAMUS SCANLON
MANY CORPORATIONS AND INSTITUTIONS OFTEN TRY AND CHOOSE A WORD IN WHICH TO DEFINE THEMSELVES AND THEIR CORPORATE/INSTITUTIONAL IDENTITY. WHAT WORD WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO DEFINE YOU AS A WRITER?
Dark – bleak – meek – deep (DBMD @copyright pending!!)
IF YOU HAD TO SUMMARIZE YOUR STYLE OF WRITING TO SOMEONE WHO HAD NEVER READ YOU BEFORE, WHAT WOULD YOU SAY?
Staccato – spare – rhythmic – humorous not to mention DBMD!
WHY DO YOU WRITE? WHAT DO YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH? WHY WAKE UP EVERYDAY AND THINK ABOUT WRITING, INSTEAD OF TV OR NOSE-PICKING OR STOCK PORTFOLIOS?
Nose picking is fine. Except when person is on the subway beside you which is very common in NY. Also toe clipping merchants.
I am only trying to understand myself really. I have no literary ambitions / credentials / pretensions. Per se – joke!
WHAT’S SOMETHING THAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE, SOMETHING THAT YOU HOLD CLOSE TO YOUR HEART WHEN WRITING?
Photo of the Virgin Mary (joke). Nothing that I am aware of.
WHAT DOES THE SPACE YOU WRITE IN LOOK LIKE?
No space – subway beside nose pickers – cafes beside posh NYU types – writing retreats – living room – Centre for Fiction.
DO YOU TYPE IN MICROSOFT WORD? OPEN OFFICE? DO YOU HANDWRITE?
Word – on Air Mac – can’t read my own handwriting – I am perfect doctor material.
WHAT SINGLE AUTHOR HAS INSPIRED YOU THE MOST TO WRITE?
DO YOU FEEL YOUR WRITING CARRIES AN “IRISH TRADITION”? DOES IT HELP OR HURT?
Not hindrance. The writing Irish tradition I am aware of is melancholia plus introspection plus black humor to hide the cruel message.
WRITING FROM A KID’S PERSPECTIVE IS OFTEN HARD–ANY TIPS ON HOW YOU PULLED IT OFF SO SUCCESSFULLY?
I am still back there!
—ON THE INDUSTRY—
WHAT IS YOUR OPINION ON DIGITAL vs PRINT MEDIUMS FOR WRITING?
I have Kindle – it is fine – I prefer physical book for sure.
ARE YOU HAPPY WITH THE STATE OF THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY?
No – it is atrocious.
WAS THERE A PARTICULAR MOMENT THAT SPURRED YOU ON TO SUBMIT?
No – it is hard for me to submit anything anywhere. I am still not sure how it all happened. I was in a fugue state I think (like after German Shepherd attack (see below!))
HOW WAS THE EDITING PROCESS WITH CAIRN PRESS? EASIER THAN EXPECTED? HARDER?
Much harder. I aged 5 years.
–AS CLOSE AS YOU’LL EVER BE: STORIES–
WHAT IS, PERSONALLY, YOUR FAVORITE PIECE IN AS CLOSE AS YOU’LL EVER BE: STORIES?
Favorite is ‘The Long Wet Grass’ (free as sample on kindle (marketing phase of this interview over now and you may be reprinting it with this interview piece). There is ambiguity if man or woman in the trunk. It has good pace. And unanswered questions. It is kind of a fluke I think although it won Fish Publishing flash fiction competition. It is my favorite as well because the play based on it (same name) was presented at the NEWvember Festival in Tivoli in November 2013 and had good response from the audience. It may be produced later in 2014 in NY.
HOW ROOTED IN GEOGRAPHY ARE THE PIECES IN THIS COLLECTION? DOES THE CITY RUB OFF ON THE WRITING?
Irish landscape is very evident – fields – rivers – river fields – rain – mist – clouds (welcome to Galway!) – seaweed – tide – wet roads – long grass. Urban settings of Galway and Belfast (and both Woodlawn and Washington Heights in NYC and South Boston) are fundamental part of the stories. They are typical urban ‘noir’ backdrop for the stories.
YOUR WRITING ABOUT THE ALSATIANS (WHICH WERE KNOWN AS “POLICE DOGS” AROUND HERE FOR A LONG TIME) IS VERY VIVID; IS THERE A BACKGROUND BEHIND THIS?
Yes I was attacked by a German Shepherd when I was collecting money for a new church to be built in Mervue. It was my father’s job really but I was sent. I would prefer if they were collecting for a cinema. God may have seen into my heart. Anyway I jumped a separating wall like a junior ninja and this German Shepherd whose night job was guarding a building yard attacked me. He destroyed my only good jacket and bit me numerous times. I lost interest in cloths after that I can tell you which continues to this day. I was wandering around semi conscious after the attack. Later I grew interested in German Shepherds. Not to mention German shepherdesses although I never met one.
THE EMOTIONAL INHERITANCE OF A LOST FATHER IN MANY OF THESE PIECES IS VERY POWERFUL, MAKING THE MEMORY A CHARACTER OF IT’S OWN. WAS THIS A CONSCIOUS CHOICE?
I make no conscious decisions – I never plan it – I have no idea what I will write. I am not much use to aspiring writers that way!
Lost youth, innocence, trust, safety, beauty, bravery as well as motifs like lost father figure are in the collection. Not sure if they are characters per se (MFA speak!)
ARE THERE ANY QUESTIONS I SHOULD HAVE ASKED BUT DIDN’T?
You covered everything!
You can read “The Long Wet Grass,” the flash piece that won the Fish Publishing flash fiction competition, and kicks off Seamus’ collection, As Close As You’ll Ever Be, right here in this issue. Seamus’ book takes the reader on an vegetarian and occasionally adolescent crime spree through Belfast, Yankeeland, and Galway.
Seamus Scanlon is an associate professor and a Carnegie Corporation/New York Times award winning librarian at the City College of New York’s Center for Worker Education. He is a native of Galway, Ireland and a graduate of University College Galway, the University of West London, and the City College of New York. Recent achievements include a residency at the McDowell Artists Colony and an emerging writer fellowship from the Center for Fiction in New York. His work has appeared in the Irish Times, the Sunday Tribune, Promethean, Journal of Experimental Fiction, Review of Post Graduate English Studies, Global City Review, Fish Publishing Anthologies, the Roanoke Review and Gemini Magazine.