In which a long, lost Four Fathers interview the Dave Housley and we did magically appears for your reading consumption and we are forced to ask ourselves whether its sudden appearance qualifies as a holiday miracle or more accurately is merely something we just didn't know had in fact been published?
Linda (For Ben): Your stories, collected as “Puzzles,” show the process of figuring out each child. “Lies” epitomizes it, how you have to be a cultural translator for the whole beginning of their lives. And “Loud”—I so get that, where the parent’s version of cool is so very different than the child’s. Talk if you will, a bit about using these very specific vignettes to get at the larger idea, and managing to avoid sentimentality.
Ben:The larger idea for me, though I didn’t consciously think about this when I was working on these pieces, is that as a parent, and especially when your children are younger, you’re always in a scramble, work, writing, wiping noses, picking-up socks and dishes, overseeing baths and brushing teeth, getting your children to sleep, and on and on. And while so much of it is automatic, or done on autopilot, you’re not an automaton either, you’re tired, and confused, and frustrated, and some times, even much of the time you feel real anger. You don’t quite understand how you got into this, and why there are moments that you feel so much rage. But then there are these amazing jolts of happiness and awe. They’re like slivers or little diamonds, and that’s what I was interested in, the jolts and the slivers, and all stories for me start with that. Not unwrapping a story, but wrapping the layers around an idea. The thing with flash fiction is that you need to nail the one idea, kill it, wrap it more tightly, and blow it up. So, not a conscious effort to tell any larger idea per se, but capture the endless small ones. Which are not small in the moment, they’re everything, and all you can see and feel, yet, ultimately, and inevitably, also reflect something larger, even if you don’t know what it is when you start.
Linda (for Dave): I don’t even know where to start. Self-medicating father, Bieber Fever, neighbor in a downward spiral, rage, a baby on the way. In “Everything is Getting Worse,” everything is getting worse, but one presses on. You’ve thrown all of it on this character Burns, who doesn’t quite seem like he’s up to the load. I’m wondering whether we (or I guess I mean, I) feel for this guy, who in some respect made his own chaos, because he is a father? Or are we really rooting for the son?
Dave: I hope you do feel for him! He’s my only recurring character, actually—he was the protagonist of a story called “Ryan Seacrest is Famous,” which was the title story in my first collection, and a story called “Toyota” from my next one,Commercial Fiction. I believe at one point I tweeted “my only recurring character is a terrible asshole.” So yeah, he’s kind of a terrible asshole who mostly obsesses over what other people have and how easy it all looks, about the choices he’s made and the fact that he can’t unmake them and they didn’t lead to him being a lead guitar player, or a news reader, or a shortstop. They didn’t lead anywhere his eighteen-year-old self would have thought was cool. They led to the normal places and he has all this resentment and self-loathing about that. He’s terrible but in my mind, at least, it’s mostly self-loathing.
I really tried to put pressure on him in this story. A lot happens in terms of plot, especially for “literary fiction.” I pictured the progression of the story as this magnifying glass that was shining light on him, getting hotter and hotter, backing him into a corner, until he either has to figure out what’s important to him or just lose it altogether and in the process lose everything he still does have. I hope readers feel for him because you can tell that beneath his stupid, pill-popping, wine-drinking, selfish facade, he really does want to do the right thing. Or, he wants to want to do the right thing.
There’s a thing that happens at a Justin Bieber concert, and I don’t tend to love moments of my own writing, but I’m still pretty happy about how the turn happens there, and after that I hope you can see him acting in a way that’s more worthy of our sympathy or feeling.
I think the son is going to be okay. Or at least, I hope at the end of the story you feel like there’s been a movement toward a place where Burns is actually going to change and by the time the son is old enough to wonder what all of that was about, Burns will have it together for good.