Woodshop Talk: Michael Deagler
Michael Deagler is the author of the short story “Fishtown, Down” and
winner of the Inkslinger Award in fiction for Issue No. 7.
Here we chat with him about his process and his story.
This is Woodshop Talk.
BUFFALO ALMANACK: Hi Michael, thanks for taking on our first Woodshop Talk like this. It’s very cool to have you on board. I want to start by saying that “Fishtown, Down” is an intensely cool piece. Where did it come from? Monk is such a caricature in many ways of the dour, sardonic twentysomething drifter. Is there anything autobiographical about him or the story at large? Have you ever threatened a quizmaster with a knife over Darren Daulton?
MICHAEL DEAGLER: Thanks, I’m just honored to be included. I have never personally assaulted a quizmaster, though it is a recurring fantasy of mine. Monk and I do share some similarities, but Monk is also definitely a fairly common type of young person. There are a lot of Monks out there, in every city. Certainly in Philadelphia. Our generation — or at least the members of it that I know — tends to be overeducated, underemployed, artistically-inclined and enamoured of city life. To an even greater extent than previous generations, I think. And that’s pretty much who Monk is. He’s got vague ambitions, abstract obsessions, mundane deficiencies, and no clear path ahead of him. His world is changing more quickly than he can react to it. Which is a problem that often besets me, as well.
BA: For as much of a ramble as this story is, it is clear that its heart, like the heart of Monk himself, lives in the bones and bruises of Philadelphia. You’ve got this movie director Giallo championing “the new regionalism,” in which artists “must be ambassadors for their corners of the empire,” and that’s a belief which has underpinned Buffalo Almanack from its outset. You can see it right now in the scope and aims of our “Where Thou Art” contest. In literature and in life, what is it that makes a place home? How do you find your corner of the empire?
MD: I’m very much an advocate of regionalism. Particularly Philadelphia regionalism, since our best and brightest tend to move away and spend their gifts in the service of other cities. But I don’t think everyone has to be a regionalist. There’s no correct way for a writer to establish a relationship to place. We live in a time when people chose neighborhoods with the same self-awareness that they chose eyeglass frames. All residences are equally fertile. All residents are equally righteous. That said, my favorite writers tend to be the ones who build their myths out of their native locality: Irvine Welsh, Roddy Doyle, Daniel Woodrell, Donald Ray Pollock, anyone from Florida. Every place needs a few artists to celebrate it and criticize it and help it to shape its vision of itself. I’m not saying artists should stay home and never move to Brooklyn, but you should realize that Brooklyn probably doesn’t need your art. That place where you used to buy beer underage and loiter in parking lots: that’s the place that probably needs your art.
BA: We’re calling this bit our Woodshop Talk, right, so let’s get into making-of type business for a question. Is there anything you’d want to tell us about how this piece came together – where or how or when you wrote it, or where or how or when you think you do your best writing? How does the facture of your storytelling play out for you? Share as much or as little as you like.
MD: This story was written as part of a linked collection that shares characters and locales — it was actually written to fall in the middle of the collection, spatially and temporally. I originally envisioned it as being a bit like “After The Race” from Dubliners: short, frenetic, buoyant, a story about money misspent and problems ignored. Some of that influence remains, but as I wrote the story it became longer-winded, more despondent, a little more blatant in its attitude. The toughest thing about this story is that it’s a young-men-drinking-in-bars story, which most people (rightly) despise. On top of that, it’s a story about grief, which is also a heavily travelled avenue in fiction. So I had to work doubly hard to make it palatable despite its genre, to keep it engaging, dynamic, and as original as possible.
BA: The story is over, but it’s clear that Monk’s jaunting days are nowhere near an end. If you had to keep writing, if you had to see the character through the next month or year or the remainder of his lifetime, where do you think Monk goes from here? What does “tomorrow” look like?
MD: There are other Monk stories, which may or may not make it into print. I do hope things work out for him. He’s young enough that he has ample time to clean himself up, figure himself out, and even move to a different place, should he chose to do so. But I can’t say he’ll be alright. Unfortunately, a lot of people are never alright. I’m not wholly convinced any Millennials will be alright. I have difficulty imagining what “tomorrow” looks like for any of us, economically or emotionally. I think Monk’s main problem (besides the alcoholism) is the same problem that a lot of creative people have during that transitional phase between school and whatever’s next: he needs to find his project. It’s easy to stagnate when there’s no clear path forward. I’m optimistic for Monk, though. He’s still alive, which is the most important thing. The living tend to figure things out, given adequate time.