-Scott Dominic-Carpenter spoke to Ian Chung-
Scott Dominic Carpenter teaches literature and critical theory at Carleton College (MN), where he has written extensively on the representation of madness in the novel, political allegory, and literary hoaxes. His fiction has appeared in such journals as Chamber Four, Ducts, Midwestern Gothic, The MacGuffin, Prime Number and Spilling Ink. A Pushcart Prize nominee and a semi-finalist for the MVP competition at New Rivers Press, he has just released his first collection of short stories, This Jealous Earth (MG Press). His debut novel, Theory of Remainders is due to appear in May (Winter Goose Publishing). His website is at http://www.sdcarpenter.com.
1) How did your collaboration with MG Press come about? How does it feel for This Jealous Earth to be their first title?
It was a happy coincidence. MG Press is the brainchild of a literary journal called Midwestern Gothic. They’d been putting out excellent issues for the past few years, and one of my stories had appeared in their pages. Just as I was ironing out the last wrinkles in my collection, they put out their initial call for book submissions. I think they expected to be publishing a novel, but I managed to win them over with the stories—and I couldn’t be happier about it. MG Press is a class operation, and they provided more support (both in editing and promotion) than you’d get from presses many times larger.
2) What holds the stories in This Jealous Earth together as a collection? Are there any writers that have influenced either particular stories or you as a writer in general?
It’s quite a varied collection, featuring main characters of all backgrounds—men and women, old and young. No setting appears twice, and readers will find the gamut of emotions. However, the stories are bound together by the question of choice: in each story characters arrive at a fork in the road, and they need to choose a path that will alter their future in important ways. I try to show these choices in real time, and then illustrate the consequences.
Stylistically I find myself drawing on many authors, and much depends on who I’m currently reading. But special favourites are Paul Auster, David Mitchell, Arthur Phillips. I also love the short story greats of the nineteenth-century: Poe, Hoffmann, Gogol, Balzac.
3) In 2011, The Millions published an essay by Cathy Day, in which she argued that talk of the renaissance of the short story is reflective of the rise of creative writing classes/workshops and their preference for the standalone story or poem, rather than any actual shift in what people want to read. As someone with both a published collection of short stories and a forthcoming novel, what are your thoughts on this?
It’s an interesting theory, and there may be a grain of truth to it. The fact is that public taste shapes what people write at the same time that what we write shapes public taste. There’s give and take. The short story used to be a tremendously popular genre, then it subsided, and now it seems to be coming back. Given how marked our preference is for shortness (on the web, for example), I wouldn’t be surprised to see even more interest in short stories. That said, I don’t think the novel is in any danger of being knocked off its champion’s pedestal.
4) On your website, you note that you ‘came to creative writing rather late’. As someone whose academic background is in nineteenth-century French literature, what eventually led you to creative writing, and how has the journey shaped you as a writer?
In some ways, it’s the most natural of transitions: you spend twenty-odd years studying literature, and that gives you the tools you need to start writing it. It’s certainly true that reading is the best preparation for writing; I may just have pushed that formula a little farther than most. What’s been interesting to me is how my creative writing still revolves around the preoccupations I developed in my reading: the difficulty of expression, the search for transcendence, humour. I find myself drawing on my analytical background quite often, though in indirect ways.
5) What’s next for you? Could you say something about Theory of Remainders, your forthcoming novel with Winter Goose Publishing, and how it compares with This Jealous Earth?
As you say, the next thing up is the novel. Theory of Remainders is a wonderfully exciting project (they’re already trying to hawk the movie rights), and we’ve just finished the galleys. (It comes out in May.) Theory… is a literary novel with a well-honed edge of suspense. It deals with an American psychiatrist, Philip Adler, who seeks to resolve a trauma he suffered — the death of his daughter — over a decade earlier. Most of the story takes place in France, where Adler lived for several years, and it weaves together notions of insanity, language, and cultural difference in a tale that is both moving and touched with humour.
At the same time, I have other pots simmering on the stove: more stories, some travel writing, and another novel.
[ED: We'll publish Ian's review of Scott's collection, This Jealous Earth very soon, so keep an eye out for it...]