Describe your latest project.
Success: Stories is a collection of fiction that invites you into a dozen strange worlds where you'll find some recognizable heartbreak, wicked humor, and weirdness. It's a tour of the human experience from San Antonio to Bangkok, Scotland to West Africa. Each stop takes you deep into the maze that characters must navigate as they try to answer core questions in their very different lives. As someone who has been lucky enough to live in different places, I'm drawn to stories that capture the universality of that strangeness.
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
"A powerful, diverse collection. What makes it memorable are the vivid prose and subtle insights into characters struggling to make sense of or break free from the customs that shape our lives." Brendan Short
When I finished high school, I took a summer job at the nearby military base. I worked in a computer room, running programs that used sonar to map tunnels half a world away, where North Korea was digging under the Demilitarized Zone to South Korea. Some days I went with one of the older guys to test the sonar recorders in a field by twisting a detonator (not the push-down-the-handle motion you see in old movies) and setting off explosive charges of C4. It was so wild I gave the job to a character in a story called "Electrolysis."
How do you relax?
With C4 (see above). Just kidding. With music, usually.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
My wife and I took a trip across the country years ago that was a sort of pilgrimage marked by bookstores and bar-b-q. We were looking for a place to live, and one big factor was the quality of local bookstores; another was food. New Orleans has amazing food and a few great antiquarian stores (and is the place to read Coming through Slaughter and experience the joy and surprise of the WPA Guide to New Orleans). Denver had the Tattered Cover: 140,000 titles and a bunch of overstuffed chairs. In San Francisco we paid homage to Lawrence Ferlinghetti's City Lights bookstore and soaked up the peace of the upstairs poetry room. But I can honestly say — and this is definitely not sucking up — that when we reached Portland and found the color-coded map of Powell's City of Books, with used and new books shelved together so you could find new and old books by the same author, that was a revelation. My test for each place had been to look for Alberto Moravia's Agostino, and Powell's was the only place that had it.
In a more traditional literary pilgrimage, I did go to Oxford, Mississippi, once for a conference and visited Faulkner's house. But I got there too late to get in, so I just stalked around the outside of the house like...a stalker. Then went downtown to the old square and saw the city hall clock that no longer works, its hands as paralyzed and beautiful now as when Bill wrote
The Sound and the Fury.
Fahrenheit, Celsius, or Kelvin?
Kelvin, absolutely. Zero is zero.
Name the best television series of all time.
Well, it's The Wire, of course. Because I wanted to follow every one of its characters through the city, and because it's as funny and tragic and bitter as life, and hopeful enough to care even when there isn't hope. (As a kid, I would have answered Johnny Quest for the adventure and suspense.)
On a clear and cold day, do you typically get outside into the sunshine or stay inside where it's warm?
Both. First I look out and see that it's beautiful out there — crisper than you ever see in summer in D.C., with branches and passersby looking freakishly high-definition — so I want to go experience that. And I think it will be invigorating. And it is, but after about 15 minutes I'm freezing, and after another 15 minutes want back in where it's warm. The yin and yang of winter.
Aside from other writers, name some artists from whom you draw inspiration and talk a little about their work.
Musicians have inspired me more than other writers: Tom Waits evokes worlds and characters, so do the Holmes Brothers, old-time guitarists Norman Blake and Wayne Henderson, Beck, Lucinda Williams, Senegalese groups Touré Kunda, Orchestra Baobab, and Baaba Maal, and Indonesian gamelan. Painters and visual artists also show me how to be creative. I love outsider artists like James Harold Jennings and Herbert Singleton, their outrageousness and their humor. They enter into another story in the book, "Angelina before the Throne of Heaven." I loved the recent traveling Turner exhibition. My mother has a very wry and imaginative sense of humor. She's a painter.
Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
I don't know why, but stories have sometimes opened up other worlds for me more piercingly than novels. I love both forms, but these books prove that "short" can mean "huge."
A Dozen Story Collections that BLOW NOVELS AWAY!!!
Any collection by Alice Munro
The Devil's Church and Other Stories by Machado de Assis
In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders
African Short Stories edited by Chinua Achebe
The Fiancée and Other Stories by Anton Chekhov
A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You by Amy Bloom
Where I'm Calling From by Raymond Carver
Not Where I Started From by Kate Wheeler
The Politician and Other Stories by Khamsing Srinawk
Selected Stories by Rabindranath Tagore
Enormous Changes at the Last Minute by Grace Paley
The Aleph and Other Stories by Jorge Luis Borges
The Gifts of the Body by Rebecca Brown
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David Taylor is the author of Success: Stories.