.:| ISSUE 13 |:. Natalie Vilter & Dan Stockman
... & a Conversation with NOVELIST Dan Stockman
EDITORS Letisia Cruz & Heather Lang: Thank you, Dan, for allowing us to publish a short section of your fantastic novel, Brood X. If we may, let’s begin with the excerpt featured in this issue of Petite Hound Press. How do you feel that it's representative of the novel as a whole?
NOVELIST Dan Stockman: One thing I love about this passage is that, to me at least, it feels like a bit of poetry. When I was writing, I worked very hard to avoid the kind of Jonathan Franzen/East Coast/Rich White People With Too Much Time on their Hands kind of characters and write about the kind of people I know, people that you can feel like might live down the street from you. At the same time, I wanted the writing to be beautiful - I had just read Leif Enger's gorgeous novel, "Peace Like a River," so I knew that it was possible to both tell a great story and have moments of beauty. So whenever I could in Brood X, I tried to include those moments of beauty - even when they're sad - which, I think, makes a sort of lush backdrop the story is told against. This particular passage, from when the main character Andy first hears cicadas buzzing that summer, reflects one of those moments, but it also captures that idea of this being a story about the familiar: This is a sound he's heard before, a sound he's grown up with over the years, and yet through the lens of his particular time and place, it seems different somehow.
LC & HL: In a book as exquisitely heartbreaking as Brood X, I’d argue that occasional lightheartedness is every bit as important to the novel as the struggles of the main character. In chapter seven, you mention a bar that “raises the price of beer when people dance.” Now, we know that Brood X is a work of fiction, but we have to ask: how did you come up with this? We certainly laughed out loud.
DS: One thing you need to remember is that when I started writing this in the fall of 2009, I had been a journalist for 14 years. While I had written fiction in college, I hadn't written anything but facts - facts I could prove in court, if needed - for a decade and a half. So when I sat down to write Brood X, I had a very, very big problem: It all felt like lies. I was so used to writing only the truth, only what I could prove, that writing fiction was suddenly incredibly difficult. To overcome this, I set the novel in my neighborhood, had young Andy live in the house I live in, had adult Andy live in a neighborhood I was familiar with, drive my brother-in-law's car, etc. Setting the novel in a real place, with touches of reality helped me overcome that hurdle and let me start writing. So while a few places in Fort Wayne have their names changed, most don't and most are real places. The bar Andy and Ashley dance in is a real place, called Curley's, but I changed the name to Mo's (in a shout-out to the Three Stooges) since Indiana law does not allow anyone under 21 in a bar. And yes, Curley's really does raise the price of beer when people are dancing - one of those wonderful quirks of Fort Wayne that make it such a unique place.
LC & HL: Dan, you told us that the end of Brood X underwent a drastic revision while you were in graduate school. Without giving away too much to the readers who have yet to read your novel, could you please tell us a little bit about how and/or why you made these changes?
DS: With many, many thanks to the incredible Walter Cummins who worked with me on it, yes, the ending to the book was changed dramatically. I don't think it gives anything away to say that I always knew how Andy's story would begin and end: He would begin depressed, lonely, unfulfilled and unable to break his preoccupation with the past. And it would end with him finding fulfillment - not that different than most stories, really. And in the first version, he did find that fulfillment, but it was in a way that I felt, in retrospect, left some important things out. For one, the book is about Andy's quest to find his long-lost love interest Ashley, and in the first version he found her, but the reader did not get to see the confrontation, and I felt that was unfair: If you're going to read a story about a character's quest to find someone, you...
As you can see from the picture ARTIST Natalie Vilter loves trees and her favorite class in highschool is art. She volunteers at the local Center for Visual Arts and is a 4H member. In her spare time she raises English Angora rabbits.
NOVELIST Dan Stockman grew up along the shores of Lake Michigan and fell in love with writing while still in elementary school, spinning fantastic stories about a superhero named, coincidentally, Dynamite Dan. In college, unsure of what he wanted to do with his life, he accidentally fell into journalism, leading to 19 years in daily newspapers in various Midwest states. Along the way he won a host of awards, embarrassed countless politicians, uncovered corruption in local government and non-profits, was protested by the Westboro Baptist Church and had one of his stories become the basis for a "Daily Show" segment. His journalism work has appeared in Newsweek, the Detroit Free Press and the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2014 he received a Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University. His creative work has appeared in Pithead Chapel, The Writer and the Provo Canyon Review. His novel Brood X was published in late 2013. Through it all, he has somehow maintained a weird fascination with chickens. He lives in Fort Wayne with his wife, two children, and two crazy dogs.
...should get to be there when they finally do. Also in the first version, their mutual friend Emma keeps a secret for 17 years, but you never found out why she kept it, and I felt like that question should be answered, as well. And finally, if the book was going to be about real people in real circumstances, it didn't seem realistic for adult Andy to go off on a quest to find his high school girlfriend and have everything end well, with a nice, happy bow tied on it, which the first version had. So I found a way to still reach the goal, which was always Andy finding fulfillment and feeling that his life hadn't been wasted, but in a more realistic way, a way that also shows the impact he had on the people around him. Many, many people say they are shocked and saddened by the ending now, but no one has ever said it felt wrong. In fact, many say that while they hated what happens, they also felt that there was no other way it could have gone, which tells me I hit the balance exactly right.
LC & HL: Finally, Dan, is there anything else you’d like to say to your Brood X readers? Maybe there’s something that you were just dying to include in the novel, but it didn’t quite fit, or perhaps the writing process inspired you to learn about something that you never thought you’d be intrigued by…
DS: I had always been fascinated by cicadas, but my research into them and their predator, the cicada killer wasp, only fed that fascination. They're truly incredible insects, and I worked very hard to include a lot of information about them in a very storytelling, vs. scientific, way, and also in a way that enhanced the story arc instead of distracting from it. I believe there are many incredible parallels in life, and being able to show the parallels in the cicada's life cycle to Andy's - and hopefully everyone's - story was amazing. It's incredible when people read the book and say they were moved by it - that makes all the hard work worth it.