« "Forever Married to the Pseudonym": An Interview with Michael Shirzadian | Main | "Sheets of Sound": An Interview with Jaydn DeWald »

"Life on the Winning Side": An Interview with Rob Walsh

Rob Walsh has lived recently in Seattle, Providence, and Seoul. He is the author of Troublers, a collection of stories.

His story, "The Children's Book," appeared in Issue Seventy-One of The Collagist.

Here, he speaks with interviewer Dana Diehl about bringing abandoned stories back to life, fairy tales, and Conan the Formidable.

Please tell us where this story began for you.

I wanted to write a story where someone finds a mysterious object. That was all I knew at the beginning. Before writing “The Children’s Book” I had been working on some longer projects and was getting kind of sick of those longer projects, so I wanted to step away and write something short and fast-moving and hopefully finish it in a day. Would it be helpful to any writers out there if I mention that as soon as I finished the “Children’s Book” I decided it was terrible and banished it to one of my many failed-story folders?

It was at least six months until I found it again. I had forgotten it existed. What’s this? I thought. I could barely remember writing it. Now, just like the young girl in “The Children’s Book,” I had discovered a mysterious piece of writing. And it has led me all the way to this interview. 

What was your favorite book as a child?

Hmmm. Maybe the Redwall books? Do you remember those? And then a few years went by and I moved on to the Conan franchise—not the Robert E. Howard books but the string of franchise titles that came out in the 80s and 90s, like “Conan the Formidable” and “Conan and Indomitable.” I don’t know what to say about them. Conan fights, and wins! Sometimes when you’re a lonely kid who makes a lot of mistakes, it can be nice to imagine life on the winning side.

Do you think the literature we love as kids informs who we will be as adults?

This question is asking me to reflect on the Redwall and Conan books. While Conan got into a lot of skirmishes, I’m much less of a violent force. And I can say pretty confidently that nothing I read when I was ten or eleven has become an influence on the stories I write now. I wish “The Name of the Wind” was around when I was a kid—I would have absolutely loved that book.

Looking back to my childhood, I read mainly to escape. Some might say that’s not a very useful pastime. However, others might say that we develop our capacity for imagination in early childhood.

For me this story echoed the plot of fairy tales—a lost child, a stranger supposedly luring children into his home, a mysterious book—except of course, in this story, the parents are kind and well-meaning. Instead of driving their child away, they want desperately to protect her. How do you feel “The Children’s Book” is in conversation with traditional fairy tales?

When I was considering your earlier question and trying to think of books that I “loved” as a kid, I wanted to write about the Brothers Grimm—but I didn’t know about the Brothers Grimm until I was an adult! I wish I had those stories as a kid . . . then I could give you a better answer for the previous question.

But, yes, definitely, fairy tales are a big influence on my work. How is a story like “The Children’s Book” in conversation with them? Well, I think it’s possible to talk about time and transition, how quickly the story unfolds and jumps ahead. I always appreciate fairy tales that can do a lot of work within a small space. These stories are also unafraid to twist logic, and for me these are usually the moments that feel truly magical.

I noticed, also, that you interviewed Michael J. Lee a few weeks ago. He’s the writer of one of my favorite modern fairy tales, “The New Year.” Would he like that I’m calling it a fairy tale? Maybe not! But I think if anyone is reading this right now and found my story halfway interesting, they should check out Lee’s collection “Something in My Eye.”

I don’t mean to go off-topic. Let’s talk more about “The Children’s Book.”

I appreciate the speakers’ honest attitude about parenthood. I especially love this confession: “In a few years she would be old enough to have a lock on her door, and we would have to knock before entering, so we enjoyed while we could the luxury of strolling into our daughter’s room without the fear of discovering her doing anything that we weren’t supposed to see.” Can you tell us how you found the voice of the parents? Were you inspired by anyone?

Sometimes I feel like all of my characters sound like the parents. When I’m writing, the characters have one job: keep me interested in the project. So I think that’s where the voice comes from: it’s just amusing to me, I have a soft spot for it, and so that’s what gets written. I’m trying to work on this. I don’t want to be called self-indulgent!

You mention an “honest attitude about parenthood,” and this is very important to me even if the characters are a bit silly and absurd. I think there are some truths that become easier to accept or confront when they’re packaged in the absurd. Kind of like how you sometimes need to roll a pill in butter to get the dog to swallow it?  

Who are you reading right now?

I would love to provide a short list of books that I’ve really enjoyed in the past few months:

Peacekeeping, Mischa Berlinski
The Loney, Andrew Hurley
The North Water, Ian McGuire
Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Diane Williams
New Animals, Nick Francis Potter

I’m excited about Deb Olin Unferth’s new story collection, Wait Till You See Me Dance. The Internet tells me that this will be coming out early 2017.

I’m also looking forward to The Babysitter at Rest by Jen George and Homesick for Another World by Ottessa Moshfegh.

One more: there’s a book coming out called The Deaths of Henry King, a collaboration between Brian Evenson and Jesse Ball. Sounds pretty good, right?

What are you working on now?

For about a decade I’ve been working on this trilogy of short novels. Sometimes I think it’s good, but then I look at it six months later and think “You Fool!” and have to tear it up and start again. My hope is that this process will lead somewhere eventually.

I have some new stories coming out, though. There’s one in the current issue of Heavy Feather Review, and two that will appear in the next issue of NOON.

References (106)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.

Reader Comments

There are no comments for this journal entry. To create a new comment, use the form below.

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>