Court Merrigan Q&A–Moondog over the Mekong

merriganCourt Mer­ri­g­an is the author of the short sto­ry col­lec­tion Moon­dog Over The Mekong (Snub­nose Press) and he's got short sto­ries out or com­ing soon in Nee­dle, Weird Tales, Plots With Guns, Shot­gun Hon­ey and Noir Nation. He is cur­rent­ly shop­ping a nov­el, The Bro­ken Coun­try, a postapoc­a­lyp­tic West­ern. Links at http://​court​mer​ri​g​an​.com . He also runs the Bareknuck­les Pulp Depart­ment at Out of the Gut­ter and is an Edi­tor at Gut­ter Books. He lives in Wyoming with his family.

Court sez: I lived in East Asia for a decade and have an MA in Japan­ese. Now I'm back in Wyobras­ka (I could append a map if you'd like) and that MA comes in for lit­tle use. I've been slog­ging up writ­ing trail in seri­ous fash­ion for a good 12 years now, and just a cou­ple months ago final­ly — final­ly- got an agent, Adri­ann Ranta of WolfLit. I've racked up more than 500 rejec­tions for short sto­ries and nov­el man­u­scripts along the way, some of which I used to tal­ly on my blog. Now I do some reject­ing of my own as an edi­tor at Out of the Gut­ter Online and Gut­ter Books, which isn't near­ly as much fun as I thought I'd be. Sucks to turn peo­ple down.

While my cur­rent nov­el is being shopped, I'm work­ing on anoth­er nov­el, some hard­core coun­try noir ten­ta­tive­ly enti­tled The Three Days & Nights of Lamar Tilden. I work on this when my kids (5 & 2) are asleep in the ear­ly morn­ings or late evenings. Bour­bon helps, but not as much as you'd think.


Do you con­sid­er your­self a writer of lit­er­ary fic­tion or crime fic­tion? Why?

Can I answer nei­ther? I like to think what I write is pulp – aimed at main­tain­ing the fic­tive dream, and all else sub­or­di­nate to that.

Hav­ing said that, I wrote lit­er­ary fic­tion for a long time, and I still like the turn of a good sentence.

The set­tings in Moon­dog over the Mekong vary wide­ly where most fic­tion is set in a gener­ic pre­sum­ably sub­ur­ban  place. Was this a delib­er­ate choice? How impor­tant did you con­sid­er locale?

Oh, total­ly delib­er­ate. Main­ly because the locales I write about – the rur­al Moun­tain West, South­east Asia and Japan – these are the places I’ve lived near­ly my whole life, with a brief stint back east in Oma­ha for col­lege. I wouldn’t feel qual­i­fied to write about the sub­urbs. I’ve only ever vis­it­ed there, briefly. I don’t know how the sub­urbs work. I don’t under­stand them.

Locale means a great deal to me. I’m a region­al­ist. To take one exam­ple, once you cross that 100th Merid­i­an, you’re no longer in the Mid­west! In Japan, I lived for two years in the west­ern Kan­sai region, where peo­ple take region­al pride very seri­ous­ly – they have their own dialect, and point­ed­ly do not speak like the suits in Tokyo. In Thai­land, too, peo­ple are very proud of their region­al iden­ti­ties and I always found that real­ly fas­ci­nat­ing. Peo­ple are peo­ple, sure; but you’re going to act dif­fer­ent­ly out in the open of a howl­ing Wyoming bliz­zard than a snow­storm in Toledo.

My favorite sto­ry is ‘Our Mutu­al Friend,’ which fea­tures expert use of mul­ti­ple per­spec­tives. How did you come to the deci­sion to label each nar­ra­tive with char­ac­ter names?

I’ve always jeal­ous­ly admired Faulkner’s mas­ter­work As I Lay Dying, which is the best exam­ple of mul­ti­ple, first-per­son points of view that I know. I’ve been try­ing to imi­tate that nov­el ever since I read it, to vary­ing degrees of fail­ure. “Our Mutu­al Friend” is my lat­est stab at it.

Some sto­ries, I think, are just bet­ter told when we get to hear more than one side of the sto­ry. I do wish, now, that I had includ­ed the point of view of the bad father in the sto­ry, though. He’s got some­thing to say, too, even if it might be loath­some to hear.

mekongThe Scabrous Exploits of Cyrus & Gali­na Van’ (a West­ern!) sur­prised the sheey­it out of me as com­pared with the oth­er sto­ries. Where did this one come from?

Man, I’ve been work­ing on var­i­ous drafts of that sto­ry for sev­en years. It’s actu­al­ly the first chap­ter of the nov­el that real­ly recent­ly land­ed me an agent. The full man­u­script is a post-apoc­alpyt­ic West­ern, but real­ly, I start­ed with one of the old­est tropes of them all: lone mys­te­ri­ous out­law rid­ing down a dark trail. You know all kinds of shoot­ing and may­hem are going to fol­low and I just can’t resist writ­ing it out.

I assume you’ve seen a bit of cock­fight­ing. What’s your opin­ion of that sport, or sports in gen­er­al like foot­ball and box­ing and MMA, the ones Har­ry Crews called blood sports?

Cock­fight­ing is some bru­tal shit, man. It may be a sport for the spec­ta­tors and for the bet­tors, but it’s dead­ly seri­ous for the birds. Birds are sup­posed to have evolved from dinosaurs, right? The cou­ple of times I watched them fight over in Thai­land, you could real­ly see that rep­til­ian side of the cocks, just slash­ing and slay­ing. I mean, roost­ers in amaz­ing­ly stu­pid ani­mals, but it’s still hard to see them in pain, espe­cial­ly when that pain is inflict­ed by the stim­uli they have no con­trol over. It’s not like they’re fight­ing for hens or some­thing, you know? I don’t think I could real­ly be a fan.

Hav­ing said that, I am a fan of the “blood sports.” Foot­ball in par­tic­u­lar. Grow­ing up in Nebras­ka, Husker foot­ball is reli­gion, and while I know intel­lec­tu­al­ly that big-time col­lege foot­ball is cor­rupt­ing to insti­tu­tions of high­er edu­ca­tion and that big-time foot­ball play­ers are, for the most part, exploit­ed in glad­i­a­tor-like fash­ion (what is foot­ball if not America’s glad­i­a­tor sport?), I love the hell out of it any­way. Sat­ur­day morn­ings in the fall, man, I wake up jan­g­ly, know­ing I’m going to be scream­ing at the TV in a few hours. I can’t jus­ti­fy it and I’ve giv­en up trying.

What’s the sto­ry of your book’s pub­li­ca­tion? How did you end up at Snub­nose Press?

I only ever got on Twit­ter because of Snub­nose. When they first start­ed out, I couldn’t fig­ure out how to get a hold of them except on Twit­ter, so I made an account and start­ed tweet­ing at Bri­an Lin­den­muth, who runs the press. Even­tu­al­ly I got an email address where I could send a query, and we went from there.

I had var­i­ous iter­a­tions of what ulti­mate­ly became Moon­dog Over The Mekong out at as many places as I could think of, but Snub­nose came through first. The whole crew there, espe­cial­ly Bri­an and Eric Beet­ner, who designed the cov­er, have been a great plea­sure to work with.

How has your work as an edi­tor affect­ed the way you write?

Absolute­ly. Here’s the main thing I’ve learned: Every. Sin­gle. Word. Counts. I stop read­ing plen­ty of sub­mis­sions mid­stream at Out of the Gut­ter and for­mer­ly at PANK because the fic­tive dream was bro­ken (admit­ted­ly, there is a dif­fer­ent cal­cu­lus involved with poet­ry). I learned, too, that the writer is not par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant in the sto­ry: the read­er is. Else­wise there’s no point in writ­ing. Unless you’re writ­ing a diary. If you can’t keep a read­er engaged, lit­tle else you do on the page matters.

What projects do you have in the pipeline?

My agent, Adri­ann Ranta, is shop­ping my nov­el, called The Bro­ken Coun­try, the first chap­ter of which you can find in my Moon­dog Over The Mekong. (Can I just say here that I only got an agent, like, six weeks ago, and it still gives me a lit­tle shiv­ery thrill to type “my agent”?) So I’m hope­ful that will find a home some­where rel­a­tive­ly soon. In the mean­time, I’m work­ing on two oth­er nov­els, one a his­tor­i­cal fan­ta­sy set in pro­to-South­east Asia, tena­tive­ly called Strid­er, the oth­er a rur­al noir thriller set in Wyobras­ka called The Three Days & Nights of Lamar Tilden. Hope to get both of those done in the next sev­er­al months, with hopes that Adri­ann will find them mar­ketable and so will some edi­tors out there.

Haven’t been work­ing much on short sto­ries recently.

Would you like to bring atten­tion to some of your work online, or some­thing else you think deserves attention?

I just had a sto­ry called “The Last Lad­der” go up in Plots With Guns (‑1.html) which I’m real­ly fond of – there aren’t enough sto­ries set in the rur­al Moun­tain West, in my opin­ion, so I’m try­ing to, you know, fill in the gap. I also have a postapoc­a­lyp­tic sci-fi piece com­ing out soon in Big Pulp, and a reprint of a sto­ry that orig­i­nal­ly appeared in Grift called “City of Screams” com­ing out in a Press 53 anthol­o­gy called Home of the Brave. It’s about a wound­ed Native Amer­i­can vet­er­an of Afghanistan return­ing home to the reser­va­tion, where he takes on the bull­shit he finds there with a limp and an auto­mat­ic rifle. Not based on a true sto­ry by any means, but if you google “White­clay, Nebras­ka” you’ll get an idea of the kind of bull­shit I’m talk­ing about.

I’d also like to men­tion that Gut­ter Books is up and run­ning and we’re look­ing for the hard­est-hit­ting pulp you can throw at us. Find details at http://​www​.gut​ter​books​.com/​2​0​0​9​/​0​1​/​s​u​b​m​i​s​s​i​o​n​s​-​r​e​a​d​i​n​g​-​p​e​r​i​o​d​-​i​s​-​f​r​o​m​.​h​tml And we’re always look­ing for good flash fic­tion and short fic­tion for Out of the Gut­ter Online. Sub at https://​out​ofthegut​teron​line​.sub​mit​table​.com/​s​u​b​mit

Thanks, Rusty, for the chat. You gave my stuff a shot both here at FC&http://​www​.fried​chick​e​nand​cof​fee​.com/​2​0​1​1​/​0​8​/​1​1​/​f​i​r​s​t​-​w​a​t​e​r​-​f​i​c​t​i​o​n​-​b​y​-​c​o​u​r​t​-​m​e​r​r​i​g​an/) and at the (now sad­ly defunct) Night Train ( http://​www​.night​train​magazine​.com/​c​o​n​t​e​n​t​s​/​m​e​r​r​i​g​a​n​_​1​1​_​1​.​php) , and both times it was a real shot in the arm, you know? I was going through a rough peri­od then, writ­ing-wise, and you were some­one out there in the wide world who didn’t think the sto­ries I was kid­nap­ping pix­els for were just crap. Can’t thank you enough for that.

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