Welcome to the third post of our podcast series! We are honored to bring you Darrin Doyle reading his piece “Four-Letter Word for Exchange” from our first issue. Below you find an interview with him as well. Enjoy!
PC: What’s your usual writing process like?
DD: Typing is much faster and less physically taxing. However, some of my best work has been done with pen and paper. I wrote a large portion of my novel, The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo, in a notebook. It’s liberating to write with a pen. Somehow it feels less permanent, so there’s less pressure, and I feel like I can write anything that comes into my mind. The ideas really flow furiously. Also, when I type the notebook material into the computer, it naturally goes through an editing process; I’m forced to re-examine what I wrote, and inevitably, it is changed for the better. I always recommend that everyone write with a pen and paper (even though I don’t always follow this advice myself).
I used to have a regular writing schedule, but not so much anymore. When I’m inspired, I write a lot, and then I stop for days or even weeks at a time. I don’t recommend this habit to anyone. In general I think it’s better to write a little bit every day. However, I lived that way for many, many years, and now something is telling me to try a change of pace, and I’m not fighting it.
PC: What’s the strangest thing that’s ever inspired you to write a story?
DD: I guess the strangest inspiration was the idea for The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo. What inspired me, initially, was the question, “Can I pull this off? Can I write a story in which an entire city gets eaten?” I wanted to make it convincing in the same visceral way that Gregor Samsa’s transformation into a gigantic beetle is convincing (Kafka’s Metamorphosis). I have no idea where the notion came from; nor do I know if I pulled it off, but I think I did. People who have read the book have told me that they actually Googled it to see if it happened.
If you read either of my novels, you’ll see that I have a bizarre obsession with eating. However, I can’t explain why this is the case. Nor do I want to know.
PC: Any favorite authors?
DD: Yes, plenty! I have a stable of classic writers – James Joyce, Richard Yates, Shirley Jackson, Franz Kafka, and Flannery O’Connor, to name a few. My other favorites are in constant flux, as I try to continuously feed my brain. A random list of my favorite authors at the moment includes George Singleton, Chris Bachelder, Alison Lurie, Percival Everett, Brian Evenson, and Kathryn Davis.
PC: What’s your main goal in writing fiction?
DD: I never think of having a goal when I write, but I suppose my main goal is to entertain. However, what constitutes “entertainment” varies widely from person to person, so I can only try my best to entertain myself when I write. In order to be entertaining with the written word, I think the main things you need are clarity, voice, and accuracy. You also need a bit of surprise, too, and characters who are fully realized human beings. I don’t mean surprise in the sense that the plot does something unexpected. I just mean that the entire “vision” of the piece – the turns of phrase, the style, the nuances of character – keeps readers engaged and interested.
PC: Are there any pitfalls you fall into and how do you bring yourself back?
DD: Writing is emotionally taxing. There’s no other way to say it. While there are many moments of laughing, excitement, surprise, and so on, the truth is that it’s a grind. It’s hard work. Cobbling out sentence after sentence and trying to build a story, a life. Trying to create characters who are as complex as any random person you could meet on the street – it’s not easy, and I don’t even know if I’ve succeeded at it yet. But that’s my goal, anyway. Plus, writing is inevitably about some kind of darkness or ugliness inside people, and this is equally distressing, even if you try to wrap it up in humor. So the pitfall is, in five words, “a paralyzing sense of desperation.” Ha ha! As to the second part of the question, I bring myself back by watching indie horror movies and episodes of Eagleheart: Paradise Rising.
PC: What inspired “Four-Letter Word for Exchange?”?
DD: This piece is one of the more autobiographical ones I’ve ever written. It was inspired by living in Japan for a year, teaching English. After our year was up, my wife and I backpacked around Southeast Asia and New Zealand for four months. It was an amazing experience in so many ways. However, as the trip neared its end, I was overwhelmed with a sensation of dissatisfaction and, weirdly, restlessness. In part, I just wanted to get back to the United States. Yet another part knew that this would only lead to more desire to travel, or more desire for something else, something hard to articulate. I think the piece ends up as a meditation on the idea of unfulfilled desire, and how we’re all existing, to greater or lesser degrees, in a constant state of this emotion. Or maybe it’s just me.