Murray Dunlap’s work has appeared in about thirty magazines and journals. His stories have been twice nominated for the Pushcart Prize, as well as to Best New American Voices, and his first book,Alabama, was a finalist for the Maurice Prize in Fiction. He is currently working on a collection of short stories called Bastard Blue that will be published by Press 53 next year. The extraordinary individuals Pam Houston, Laura Dave, Michael Knight, and Fred Ashe taught him the art of writing.
Q (Meg Pokrass): What is your feeling about having mentors as a writer?
It is crucial. No one lives in a vacuum. You need a wise few individuals who will tell you if what you are doing works, or not, and if not, why… It seems critical. I have yet to meet a writer who thinks feedback is useless.
What do you do when you feel stuck or uninspired and does it work to trick the brain into working?
I first try to keep after it, and see what happens. But if I’m really blocked (as I am now), I try to give myself an exercise. I.E. -attempt to recreate what mentors in the past have done.
How does getting published change the feeling a writer has for their own story?
It is validation for me. It means the story worked in the right ways. It doesn’t mean it is perfect -and I have in fact made changes seconds prior to it going live.
Tell us about the experience of making What Doesn’t Kill You, your survivor story anthology just out from Press 53?
It was a genuine lifesaver. I had been in a horrific accident (including a coma and a wheelchair) so I was entirely undone and lost. Then Kevin Watson of Press 53 and I began talking, one thing led to another, and the next thing you know I had about 3,000 stories in my in-box. It was a long process, but entirely worth it. I truly believe we found and published some real gems. I am proud to be in there. And with a story written post-accident, which I have to remind myself of everyday, as I fear I can’t write well anymore.
How has your incredible but slow and hard recovery impacted your writing?
Much. I’m afraid I have a much harder time now, as my memory has been drastically impacted. But as I have not been able to go to any 9-5 job, I have more time to work now than I ever have…
What would you like to tell other writers who are battling through a curve ball time… others who are overcoming injuries and trying to write again after some absence…?
From my crazy experience, I will say to be sure and follow up on all leads. You never know what is going to turn out meaningful. For example, it was a regular “friends of Press 53″ email that got me started talking to Kevin about an anthology. This has been the most rewarding experience to exist after my accident… and what eventually led to me having a writing life when I really had no other kind of life at all.
I know you worked with Pam Houston, whose writing I adore. What was working with Pam like? Also, if you can tell us a bit about your friendship/mentor relationship with Michael Knight…
Working with Pam Houston was exceptional. She had wisdom and plenty of exercises (I have amnesia, so I can’t give examples). Plus she is a fantastic human being and fun to work with.
Michael Knight has been a good friend since I was about 15. He and my brother have always been pals, and I starting hanging out with them when I was old enough to do stuff. The thing about Michael: he is a truly gifted writer that I am only now able to appreciate how lucky I was to have as a mentor. Man… my first stories were bad! But Michael hung in there with me and has given valuable feedback my entire writing career. And the name of What Doesn’t Kill You… was his idea!
Tell us about your new collection and when it will be out!
It is now called Bastard Blue. It has been a project in-the-works since I was in college. I am so happy that all the years of work have been validated.
The Fictionaut Five is our ongoing series of interviews with Fictionaut authors. Every Wednesday — and over the holidays, every Saturday —Meg Pokrass asks a writer five (or more) questions. Meg is the editor-at-large for BLIP Magazine, and her stories and poems have been published widely. Her first full collection of flash fiction, “Damn Sure Right” will be out in February from Press 53. She blogs at http://megpokrass.com.