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Sunday
Dec202015

“From the Frying Pan Into the Fire!”: An Interview with Dave Housley

Dave Housley's third collection of short fiction, If I Knew the Way, I Would Take You Home, was published by Dzanc Books in January 2015. He is the author of Commercial Fiction (Outpost 19) and Ryan Seacrest is Famous (Impetus Press; Dzanc Books rEprint). He is one of the founding editors of Barrelhouse magazine, and a co-founder of the Conversations and Connections writer’s conference. This story is part of what might be a new collection, Massive Cleansing Fire, in which every story ends in a massive cleansing fire. Seriously. Maybe. Sometimes he drinks boxed wine and tweets about the things on his television at @housleydave.

His story, "Those People," appeared in Issue Sixty-One of The Collagist.

Here, he speaks with interview Dana Diehl about Paula Deen, celebrities with a sense of humor, and allowing our characters to be evil.

Sara Lane is clearly influenced by Paula Deen and her racist comments back in 2013. What first inspired you to write about this?

Obviously you’re right about Paula Deen. Most of the time, for me, stories start as an idea of a person in a situation. Right around the time the whole Paula Deen thing was blowing up, I read an article written by somebody who had taken the Paula Deen Cruise (which it should be noted is a Real Thing), and I thought, I wonder what it would be like to be an African American person on that cruise. Then, what if that person won the cruise, so they weren’t even there on purpose, really. So that is the person in the situation. I thought it had some tension and the Paula Deen character, Sara Lane, was really fun to write– she’s this totally ridiculous character with a spray-on tan and silly hair and she spouts all this country down home nonsense, but she’s also smarter than all that in a really malevolent way.

There is an interesting trend right now of writers pulling celebrities into their stories. Can you tell us why you chose to transform Paula Deen into “Sara Lane”?

I don’t know why I chose to change the name, actually. I feel kind of like a wimp, now that you ask. I mean, my first book was called “Ryan Seacrest is Famous,” so I should be up for just writing a Paula Deen story. I guess probably I changed the name because Paula Deen seems litigious, and also seems like somebody who doesn’t have much of a sense of humor about herself (side note: best thing anybody ever told me about Ryan Seacrest -- “Ryan doesn’t find anything about Ryan to be remotely funny.”). I just read through the story again and it’s pretty squarely Paula Deen. I think the only thing I made up is the University of Tennessee thing, and the brother’s name, Olean, which I’m really proud of because it does sound kind of like a down-home country style name, and it’s also another name for Olestra, a fat substitute from the 90s that was known to cause explosive diarrhea and anal leakage.

I love how fully evil you allow Sara Lane to become at the end of this story. I feel that most stories choose to end in a place of mutual compassion and empathy between characters, and I found it extremely satisfying to read a story that avoided that trope. It was gratifying to learn that a person we hate was deserving of that hate. Please speak to this ending.

Thanks for that question! I really appreciate it. As I said above, I was thinking of her as this character who is really acting, and she’s got this ridiculous costume she wears around, with the hair and the spray-on tan and the accent and the southern manners, but underneath all that she’s this awful CEO villain who is just using the protagonist to try to wiggle out of the situation she’s gotten herself into. I wanted her to kind of reveal herself to him in that way, one scene at a time, so these pieces of the costume, or of her act, are falling away and in the end she’s just basically telling him how it is: she’s the one-percenter and he’s nobody and she’s going to show him, even if she has to sink the ship to do it.

I should also say I’m not that conscious of a writer, so when I was writing I was really just trying to push the protagonist further and further, and she was the obvious way to do that. I did always think of her as putting on this act, but I was not as conscious of that act falling away as I was writing.

If this story were to happen in the real world, what would the trending headline be the morning after the incident?

“From the Frying Pan Into the Fire!” 

Who is inspiring you right now (it could be a writer, musician, director, artist, or celebrity chef)?

I was interested in the Ryan Adams project where he did a song-by-song cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989 album. As somebody who has written a whole book of stories based on television commercials, I’m interested in offbeat projects, and I like Ryan Adams’ music, or a good percentage of it, at least. I know he was accused of “mansplaining” the album but I really don’t think that was it, or at least I read some interviews that seemed very honest and explained his motivation in ways that sounded legit to me – he had just finished up a tour and an album and was looking for a project to work on, and he says they actually write similar songs in a way that I’m not musical enough to understand. I thought that was a cool, interesting project, and as somebody who has worked on some really offbeat projects, there’s something there that I recognize and like.

What projects are you working on these days?

Speaking of offbeat projects, I’m actually finishing up a new story collection right now and I’m hoping to start shopping it around in the new year. It’s a group of stories that all end in the same way. It’s called Massive Cleansing Fire and every story ends in a fire. It includes “Those People.” Right now I’m in the place where I’m trying to play around a little with the idea of story endings and especially ending a story in this kind of “meaningful seeming” way, with a big fire. It’s pretty fun and I have no idea if it’s a really stupid idea or not, which seems to be where I wind up with a lot of the things I do.

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