Keith Lee Morris
Describe your latest project.
The Dart League King is basically a novel about a bunch of losers hanging around a bar in northern Idaho on a Thursday night playing darts. Or at least that's how it appears at first glance. What I'm really interested in exploring is how lives can be altered in a profound sense in the course of a single evening in a way that wouldn't even be recognizable to the casual observer, someone unfamiliar with the small town in question. The characters, some of whom initially might seem repugnant or shallow, hopefully end up being important to the reader.
Regarding the subject matter itself, I've certainly spent plenty of time in small-town bars, and I'm attracted to them because they're places where virtually any kind of interaction can occur between virtually any kind of people, and what does occur can often have a life-altering effect violence, romance, the beginnings of friendship, the shaping of new points of view, etc. And I like darts enough to have started a dart league in my hometown once upon a time.
If someone were to write your biography, what would be the title and subtitle?
"A dark and deeply involving novel with a haunting moment on just about every page. Suspenseful, gritty, great." McSweeney's
"[A] sensitive, cleverly constructed novel of small-town life and big-league dreams." Booklist (starred review)
"It is as compelling a novel as I've read all year....[A] neatly crafted work bound for critical acclaim." The Portland Mercury
"Morris...has crafted an affecting novel with a strong narrator in Luke, a young wanderer coming to terms with the meaning of his life." Library Journal
The men who inhabit the stories in this compelling collection live in precarious normalcy, mostly in northern Idaho, balancing dashed dreams with an uncertain progress into maturity, small-town realities with their largely unfulfilled hopes for lives that are somehow vaster than what they have.
The Man Who Didn't Disappoint Everyone Completely (and Some People Only a Little Bit)
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
For a few days I worked on a salvage crew cleaning up after a train wreck. There were eight million boxcars overturned at the bottom of a cliff by the lake. You had to form a line from the overturned train all the way up the cliff, and pass the contents of the boxcars up hand to hand. The first day it was semi-trailer tires. The second day it was oiled, uncut railroad ties. The third day, I thought, was heaven cardboard boxes of apple cider. But a lot of the bottles were broken, so the boxes had to be opened and the bottles passed individually. Within an hour my fingers had turned into I don't know what you'd call them fleshy receptor units of staggering pain; five-pronged devil instruments of immense torture; alien claws of death there are no words to describe the cramping in your fingers when you've passed a thousand gallons of apple cider hand to hand. The fourth day I quit and went back to high school.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
From T. S. Eliot's "Little Gidding":
If you came this way,
Taking the route you would be likely to take
From the place you would be likely to come from,
If you came this way in may time, you would find the hedges
White again, in May, with voluptuary sweetness.
It would be the same at the end of the journey,
If you came at night like a broken king,
If you came by day not knowing what you came for,
It would be the same, when you leave the rough road
And turn behind the pig-sty to the dull façade
And the tombstone.
T. S. Eliot knocks me out.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
I loved The Catcher in the Rye when I was a kid. I still love it. When I was a teenager, I went to New York for the first time and made a point of going to the lagoon in Central Park and looking for the ducks. I like to go by there even now when I'm in the city.
Why do you write?
This will probably sound corny, or overly earnest, or pompous, or all three. But the world isn't exactly a barrel of laughs at the moment, so it seems important to be serious every now and then, even in the context of a Q&A like this one. I write because it's the best talent I have and the sole means available to me, beyond the immediate connections of friends and family, to contribute something meaningful. Literature changed my life improved it and I'd like to try to do the same for someone (even if just one someone) else. There are many other reasons, but that's the main one.
Dogs, cats, budgies, or turtles?
Cats. A cat, like good literature, lives on its own terms, within reason. And cats always look cool no matter what they're doing.
Make a question of your own, then answer it.
Q: At what bookstore have you always wanted to read?
A: Powell's. Seriously.
Recommend five or more books on a single subject of personal interest or expertise.
My Five Favorite Novels about Small Town/Rural America
As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner
My Antonia by Willa Cather
Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
Affliction by Russell Banks
Plainsong by Kent Haruf
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Keith Lee Morris is an associate professor of English and creative writing at Clemson University. His short stories have been published in A Public Space, Southern Review, Ninth Letter, StoryQuarterly, New England Review, The Sun, and the Georgia Review, among other publications. The University of Nevada published his first two books: The Greyhound God (2003) and The Best Seats in the House (2004). He lives in Clemson, South Carolina.