Interview with John McManus, Author of Fox Tooth Heart
15 Jan 2016
This is a collection of nine stories, mostly set in the South, which I wrote between 2009 and 2013. Most of the protagonists who are old enough to drink and do drugs are addicts and alcoholics; some others are headed toward that fate. It’s hard for me to generalize, since to me these stories seem pretty different from one another, but most are about yearning and fear and alienation and the search for meaning. Most of my characters have unusual belief systems. They’ve had to teach themselves how to comprehend the world because no one else has done a very good job of it. This cosmological autodidacticism works out better for some than others.
What fictional literary world would you most like to visit?
A lot of my favorite stories take place in landscapes of physical and emotional bleakness where dissolute down-and-outers are making their last stands. So I could go drink myself into oblivion with Joy Williams’s characters on some neverending train ride to Florida, but it wouldn’t turn out well. Instead I’ll pick Roberto Bolaño’s Mexico City of 1973, where everyone lives and breathes literature. It’s almost like science fiction: an alternative reality where all people live and die for poetry. I would like to live there.
What’s rocking your world this month?
Iris Dement’s sublimely beautiful new album, The Trackless Woods. All the lyrics are Anna Akhmatova poems that Iris Dement has set to music. There’s a song called “From the Oriental Notebook” that I’ve listened to 500 times this month.
What is the one movie that you can quote the most?
Thelma and Louise. I saw it when I was thirteen. It broke my heart when “The Ballad of Lucy Jordan” played while the heroes drove across Arizona toward their increasingly likely demise. Of course I fell in love with JD. And there were these scenes where Louise or Thelma would notice some old woman or man gazing from the distance, and their countenance would subtly shift, while Pete Haycock’s slide guitar played the Hans Zimmer score. I’d never watched anything like it.
Who was your childhood hero?
At the age of six, it might have been whoever wrote the Hardy Boys books. That was the year of the 1984 election. I was a weird six-year-old, because all I cared about in October 1984 was seeing Geraldine Ferraro become the first female vice president. It seemed obvious to me that she’d win, because why else would her historic candidacy exist when I was alive to witness it? The results must have taught me a lesson about solipsism. The following year I read Cosmos and decided to be an astronomer like Carl Sagan. Later, when I was a baseball-obsessed fifth-grader, my hero was Hank Aaron. For years after that, my standards for heroes dropped and my hero was whatever hot boy I’d seen lately in a film. River Phoenix in Running on Empty. Edward Furlong in Terminator 2 was exactly my age, which I took as proof we were perfect for each other.
How do you like to spend a rainy day?
Yesterday was a rainy day where I’m currently staying—the Djerassi Resident Artist Program on the SMIP Ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains of San Mateo County, California. For a lot of the day I sat at my desk drinking coffee, watching storms move in, and working on the novel I’ve come to finish. At one point I put on a raincoat and went for a walk. I read awhile. Truth be told, that’s how I’ve spent recent sunny days as well.
What’s your favorite quote or scene from Fox Tooth Heart?
I suppose I’m proudest of the transitions where I manage (or hope I manage) to speed time up and move a story forward by years or decades in one or two paragraphs, following a single scene that has occupied several pages. This happens at the bottom of page two of “Betsy from Pike,” and again in the last two pages of that story, and on pages 192-195 of “Gainliness.”
Do you have a motto, quote or philosophy you live by?
“Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling.” —James E. Starrs
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