Dispatches | August 20, 2010

This week, we’re catching up with author Dennis McFadden’s, whose debut fiction-collection, Hart’s Grove, is just out from Colgate University Press.  Snag your copy here.  Dennis’s story, “The Three-Sided Penny” appeared in The Missouri Review’s Winter 2007 issue, which you can purchase here.  He lives and writes in an old farmhouse called Mountjoy on Bliss Road, off Peaceable Street, just up from Harmony Corners, and took a few minutes this month to let us know how it feels to be a debut author.  This interview was conducted by one of our summer interns, Andrea Waterfield.

1) You work as a project manager for New York State.  Do you ever find yourself bringing experiences from your daily job into your writing?
For the most part, no.  Work is work and fiction is fiction and never the twain shall meet.  Well, never say never.  I did write one story called “Building 8” the protagonist of which is a career bureaucrat, and which takes place in the infamously “sick” title building, a building based, incidentally, on a real state office building here in Albany.  The story is a wonderful, laugh-out-loud-funny parody of bureaucracy, but unfortunately I’m the only one it seems to make laugh out loud.  It remains, as of this date, unpublished, though full of hope.

2) What have you been reading/spending your time with most lately?

My full-time job, which, as the term “full-time” might imply, occupies at least part of my time.  When I’m not there, or writing or sleeping, I’m often reading historical novels.  I try to read what I’m writing.  For the last decade or so, when I was writing short stories exclusively, I was reading nothing but short stories.  I seldom read collections (Alice Munro and George Saunders being the glorious exceptions); on the theory that if you want to write your best you should read the best, I read the prize anthologies for the most part – O. Henry, Pushcart and Best American Short Stories.  As a matter of fact, I collect the latter as a hobby; I probably have 75% of all the volumes published since they were inaugurated in 1915, and I’m hoping they’ll rub off.  With hard work and perseverance I hope to someday be included in Good American Short Stories, then work my way up to Better American Short Stories.  I think Best is probably too much to hope for at my age.

3) You’ve just published your first collection of stories, Hart’s Grove. What did you find to be the most exciting part of the process?
Without question, the most exciting part is the launching of the book after all the hum-drum hard work and tedium is done.  Any writer who says otherwise is either lying or a fool.  Of course, I suppose he or she could be both, a lying fool.  Or a foolish liar.  At any rate, after years of laboring in rejection and obscurity, never sure if your little collection of letters and syllables will ever see the light of day, the bright sunshine of the limelight is pretty irresistible, not to mention metaphorically mixed.  I could get used to champagne, adoration, and applause if I weren’t so humble.

4) What are you working on now?

I’m writing a historical novel right now.  The protagonist is a young doctor in the year 1857 in, of all places, Hart’s Grove, Pennsylvania.  It’s based on one of my Hart’s Grove stories (which is not included in the collection) and I’ve written over 200 pages.  Some wonderful writing there, if I do say so myself, chock full of terrific characters, snappy dialog, beautiful settings.  But, it’s beginning to dawn on me that I’m probably going to need a plot as well, so it could be a while yet.

Andrea Waterfield is a summer intern with The Missouri Review.