I remember my parents buying me and my brother our first albums when I was about eight—Thriller and Colour by Numbers (Culture Club), on vinyl. So I’m going to go with a tie between “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’” and “Karma Chameleon.” But there were so many songs that marked significant moments in my childhood: “The Heart of Rock & Roll,” “Land of Confusion,” “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” and “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” by Starship when my third grade crush, Dixie, fell for my best friend, George (dick!). I’ve been on a weird little Phish kick this year, so there are a lot of songs to choose from, but you can never go wrong with “Down with Disease.” Here’s one version appropriate for the season (Big Cypress, New Year’s 2000)
Link us to a favorite online story/a story you read and couldn’t stop thinking about/loved a lot.
A few years back, I read “Lightning” by Matthew Olzmann (who I understand is actually more of a poet). To me, it was perfect. The style, the voice. It really inspired me to keep writing and to try to find my own style and voice. And it was published on my birthday. Kismet. I just read it again. All hail, Matthew Olzmann. You can check it out here.
What is (one of) your favorite word(s)? Tell us why.
I’ll go with brachiate. Brachiate is a cool sounding word. I wish I could brachiate. It sounds like a dance move. I’ve been reading a lot about zoo animals and monkeys with my daughter. Unguligrade and prehensile are pretty cool too though. I haven’t used any of them in my stories yet, but you best believe I will.
Tell us about your favorite article of clothing. Tell us why.
This interview is making it painfully clear how indecisive I am. I can’t pick just one thing! There are two articles of clothing I never take off: my wedding ring and the cross I was given when I was baptized. Both are extensions of who I am and possessions I’d like to take along with me wherever I end up after this.
KINDA SORTA AMERICAN DREAM really *feels* like a collection. And so does your forthcoming WP chapbook MESOGEIOS. When you were putting both of them together, did those *collection feelings* come naturally or was it hard for you?
The collection feelings absolutely happened naturally. I probably wrote about half the stories without even thinking I would ever assemble a collection. I think it was after I wrote the title story (published by Little Fiction) that I realized I had several stories that fit together thematically. It took me another year and a half or so to complete because I didn’t want to force myself into writing “American Dream” stories—I wanted to just keep writing stories I was inspired to write and include those that I thought fit. Once I was close to having a complete collection, things became more calculated. I wrote three stories specifically intended to be included. Structurally, I knew I wanted to have a longer, novella-ish story in the middle and stories of varying lengths throughout the rest of the book. I did make a conscious effort to include stories from different corners of the country—New York, Florida, Vegas. I also made sure to include stories with characters from different cultures and walks of life. When I was finished, I made little tweaks so it would feel more collection-ey too (relocated some stories to different locales), but nothing too too major.
You write well from both men and women's perspectives in KINDA SORTA AMERICAN DREAM. Do you feel comfy doing both?
I think so. I really didn’t want to write a collection about the American Dream and include stories about all white, middle-class dudes like myself. I work as a psychologist and have counseled lots of girls and boys, men and women, so I’d like to think I’m able to empathize with people from both genders. Hopefully, the voices come across as authentic.
There is a lovely starkness to your writing, it's almost cold-ish...were it not warmed by being completely heartfelt, too. Hopefulness, presented in that way—a heart packed in ice—it's compelling. That's what interested me when you sent us "In Mykonos" back in 2012. How would you describe your own writing if you could only use a couple adjectives?
I like those words you used—stark, hopeful. Thank you! I’m pretty deliberate in terms of how much of a character’s thoughts and backstory I share. I try to include only what I feel I absolutely have to and let whoever is reading make his/her own connections. I read something by George Saunders that said a character’s thoughts should be limited to those he/she could actually think in the time allowed between two framing actions and to those the character would naturally think given the context. I like that. I stand by that. I would also hope my stories have heart to them, that people read them and feel some sort of spark or emotion.
When you started submitting your stories did you have certain levels to unlock that made you *feel* like a writer? (First story accepted, or first acceptance to a specific dream litmag?) And now that your debut short story collection is out in the world…do you *feel* like a writer? Do you think about things like that?
When I was younger, I dreamt of being a writer, but I don’t really think about that anymore. Maybe if I was making a living off it I’d feel more like a writer, but I’m perfectly content being a guy who writes. I probably spend more time feeling like an imposter, actually, than I do a real writer. But all those instances you mentioned were important moments in terms of me feeling more confident in my writing and validating my time spent writing—getting my first story published, getting into journals that had published writers I admired, getting this book published. I’m very grateful for all those experiences. I do feel like I’m learning more and improving as a writer—the more I write, the more I read—and that’s a good feeling.
Look @ this adorable pic of us in Chicago! You and I are friends in real life and I know you're a private person, (and obviously so am I, meaning I understand this)…does having your book out in the world make you feel shy? Comfy/okay because it's fiction and not a memoir/nonfiction?
I am private and a pretty anxious person too, so there’s that nervousness about how people are going to react to my writing, fiction or not, or whether anyone will even read it. I’m lucky to have a trusted beta reader, Dean Kastle. And it’s been huge for me to get feedback and help with the writing/submitting process from writers I really respect, like you, Sara Lippmann, Ben Tanzer, James Yates, and others.
ASK YOURSELF A QUESTION. Abt anything! Writing or not! (only if you want to!)
New York-style thin crust or Chicago-style deep dish pizza?
Deep dish, hands-down. I love everything Chicago, even the Bears, even the weather (not really), and especially deep dish pizza. The crispy, buttery crust, the tangy sauce, the thick cheesiness that stretches from the cardboard box to the steel pie server as you lift it out and onto a plate. Ain’t nothin’ like deep dish pizza.
THANK YOU STEVE! & Y'ALL CAN BUY HIS HIS SHORT STORY COLLECTION KINDA SORTA AMERICAN DREAM @ TAILWINDS/AMAZON/B&N/ETC!
About Steve Karas: He lives in Chicago with his wife and two kids. He is the author of Kinda Sorta American Dream (Tailwinds Press, 2015). His stories have appeared in the short-fiction anthologies, Friend.Follow.Text. #storiesFromLivingOnline (Enfield & Wizenty, 2013) and Bully (KY Story, 2015), as well as literary journals like Necessary Fiction, jmww, Hobart, and Little Fiction. He has a chapbook forthcoming from WhiskeyPaper Press in 2016.