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Author Archive: "Donald Ray Pollock"

Donald Ray Pollock Q&A

Describe your latest project.

Knockemstiff is a collection of short stories set in the holler of the same name in southern Ohio where I grew up. I tried to link the stories together through the place and some recurring characters. Most of the people in the book are trapped in situations that they wish they could escape from (addiction, a bad relationship, a dysfunctional family, mental illness, etc.). There are no blatantly redemptive or "feel-good" endings to my stories, though I think tiny slivers of hope can be found here and there. In other words, I tried to remain true to the way the world really works for the poor and the troubled.

What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?

I worked in a meatpacking plant in Greenfield, Ohio, in the early '70s, and one of my jobs there involved "pushing" hogs in the basement freezer. The hogs were hung from hooks that were connected to metal wheels on a track. You would get behind five or six of them (they were stiff from the cold) and shove them with your shoulder to ...

Interview with Keith Banner

Today's blog, my last one, is an interview with the novelist (The Life I Lead) and short story writer, Keith Banner. The reason I wanted to finish the week off with this is that I believe, I truly fucking believe, that Banner's story collection, The Smallest People Alive, published in 2004, is one of the best books of short fiction published in the last twenty years. As I mentioned yesterday, my wife went through some major eye surgery yesterday, and so I didn't have time to work much on the interview as far as tweaking my questions for Keith. Anyway, enough of my bitching. Another reason that I wanted to write about The Smallest People Alive is that it seems most people have never read it, and it's an example of the puzzling way that short story collections, even brilliant ones like this one, are neglected and ignored by the reading "public." The following interview was conducted by email on March the 5th and the 6th, 2008.

Don: Can you tell me just a bit about the publishing history of The Smallest People Alive, maybe give me some numbers?

Keith: I think that 1,000 were printed up-front. I really haven't spoken with the editor at Carnegie Mellon University Press in a while (in fact, the one I worked with back in 2003 is no longer there), but I'd estimate about 5,000 sold maybe. The good thing about a university press for me was that there was no bullshit. I just got to have a book. Plus it never goes out of print.

Don: Why do you think short story collections usually don't sell very well?

Keith: You got me. I think possibly because most publishers and agents and booksellers consider short stories of any kind "literary," therefore they don't put muscle behind selling them and the writer. When was the last time there was a collection of short stories on the NYT Bestseller List? I don't follow that stuff too closely, but I bet it doesn't happen a lot.

Don: Where did you get the idea for "Is This Thing On?" (from The Smallest People Alive)? I know that's a dumb question, but that's one of the best damn short stories I've ever read.

Keith: That one came to me because I wanted to write a direct to the reader kind of thing. I got Shorty's voice in my head and then one night I saw this totally sad, cheesy, horrible Christmas movie, and somehow it came together in my head. Plus the landscape of where I grew up: nasty houses and apartments filled with stuff just lying around, and also wild animals hurt by lawnmowers and cars. I usually get the voice first and then the images kind of attack me and there you go. I wrote the thing in a hospital waiting room on yellow legal paper. I'm a social worker for people with disabilities and I was waiting for one of my folks who was having eye surgery.


First, I want to apologize for what will surely be the rushed and sloppy nature of today's blog: my wife is having surgery this morning to fix a macular hole in her left eye, and, well, things are pretty damn hectic around here. She's going to be sitting in something that looks like a masseuse chair for the next two weeks or so and staring at the floor. By the time she's recovered, it's predicted that we'll both be pretty much out of our minds.

Okay, so jm mentioned yesterday in his great comment about signings that he didn't "like being read at," and that got me to thinking about, well, readings. As you all know by now from the way I've been blowing off, I've got a book coming out soon, and I'm going to have to read at a few bookstores. I'm certainly grateful for the opportunity to do this, but, since I've read maybe six of seven times in the past, I also ...

Signing Books

Here in the next couple of weeks, I'm going to have to start signing some books, something I've never done before (except for a few review copies). Though I was vaguely aware that I would probably be doing this when my book came out, it really didn't concern me until Brenda, the lady at the only bookstore in my town, asked if I would do a "signing" at Book World. Now I can understand people wanting to have their copies signed because I've been sort of a hit-and-miss collector of signed books myself for the past few years. And now, because I want to do the job "right," I'm going to show my ignorance and ask for advice (yes, I can be a friggin' nut case at times). But I figure if the people who read the blog on Powell's website don't know if there's a "proper" way to sign a book, then probably nobody does.

So what do most people want when they ask a writer to sign his/her book?


Earl Thompson and A Garden of Sand

When I was in my teens, I used to spend a lot of time sitting around my aunt's house with my cousins. We'd smoke cigarettes and watch the three channels on the TV and talk about sex and rock and roll and sex and what we were going to do once we left the holler. But it grew boring every so often, all that talk of escape and Blue Cheer and girls we could never have. And during one of those lulls, I noticed a fat yellow paperback that one of my cousins had bought in town lying on the coffee table. Hell, the fact that there was a book in the house was in itself a major event as far as I was concerned. That book was Earl Thompson's A Garden of Sand, and within the next few months I read it at least five or six times. Later, during one of the times I ran away from home, I missed the damn thing so much that I shoplifted it from a ...


It seemed like I had been famous for only a few minutes when I ran into one of the pitfalls of super-stardom. Coming home the other night from a 12-Step meeting in Chillicothe, Ohio, I found a message on my ancient answering machine from my old man. Because my dad never calls unless someone has died, I thought about waiting until morning to contact him, wondered if I wanted to go to bed that night with death on my mind. But I went ahead and called, and to my surprise, the first thing out of his mouth was, "I think maybe I been bamboozled." Then he asked me if I knew a certain gentleman by the name of ---.

"Sure," I said, "he works for my agent."

"Well, okay then," he said. He then proceeded to tell me that a man by that name called him from Coalinga, California, and gave him a sob story about losing his plane ticket. The man explained that it wouldn't be such ...

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