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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Writer Spotlight: River T. Huffman

River Huffman is a chameleon. His stories deal with hitmen and hungry wolves and down and out pitchers, never alighting in the same place twice. Yet throughout his work a slim ribbon of dread traces between the words and sentences, turning poetry readings into panic-inducing events, and a late morning lie-in into a master class in duplicity. His stories are concise, and pianful, and traverse the wide gulf between what we say to one another and what we mean. Though much of his work is hard to find on the internet, I've linked to one of his best, "The Reliever" in the interview I conducted with him last month over email.

The interview follows after the jump, and you can find the link to "The Reliever" in question #2.

Tres Crow: Mr. Huffman, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions. Let's start at the beginning. So you live in West Tennessee in farm house according to your bio. Have you lived there your whole life? How has Tennessee informed your writing? What first inspired you to become a writer?

River Hoffman: I’m from Tennessee originally but I lived in San Diego for ten years. Traveling overseas in the Navy gave me a chance to see how people are basically the same, with a few minor cultural differences. Southerners in general are not portrayed with much depth in popular film and television. That’s why I’m grateful for William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams. I grew up reading those guys, and listening to my parents tell stories about the colorful characters in Mississippi County, Arkansas in the Thirties and Forties. That’s what first inspired me to write. That, and this quote from Tennessee Williams in Orpheus Descending—“There’s something wild in the country only the night people know.”

TC: The subject matter of your work is extraordinarily varied, but I found that many ofthem highlight a tension between the main characters which stems essentially from misunderstanding, or perhaps a disconnect between the characters' desires. In "Feed The Wolves" the sons don't understand what their father is going through and this leads them underestimate how much damage he could do to himself. In "The Reliever" there is the total breakdown of Hooker and his girlfriend's relationship essentially because they never communicated what would happen if he couldn't play ball anymore. What draws you to these sorts of stories? Is this a generalized statement about the futility of communication?

RH: Not everyone can relate to traveling to distant planets or tracking serial killers but we’ve all had communication breakdown. It creates a realistic sort of tension in the story. Most people think that relationships will be permanent, but that’s a little fairy tale-ish.

TC: What author really knocked you out for the first time and what about that author's writing affected you so much? Do you still recognize that writer's style in your own or have you moved on?

RH: F. Scott Fitzgerald. He nailed his era so well that his work seems like it was written by a modern writer using Jazz Age clich├ęs. Reading his early novels is like going back in time to learn the attitudes and mindset of 1920’s America. You can’t get that from a history book. The Great Gatsby is my favorite novel, but there are passages in The Beautiful and Damned that I’ll never forget. I’ve never consciously tried to emulate Fitzgerald’s style and have never noticed anything in my writing that reminds me of him. If I’ve copied anyone, it would be Raymond Chandler or James M. Cain.

TC: Tell me a bit about your writing process? Are you a one-drafter, multiple drafts? Once you've finished a manuscript how do you go about your submission process?

RH: I scribble in a composition book, a lot of times while I’m lying down because creativity flows better when I’m relaxed. Once I’ve got a lot of notes and a little structure, I sit at the computer and get the first draft down. This is vital. There are a lot of would-be writers out there who lack the discipline to get that first draft down on paper. When that’s done, it’s time to read-edit-read-edit... I put the work away for a week or more and go back to it. Then it’s time to search for a place to submit. I nearly always submit to more than one place at a time.

TC: You published a book titled Antique Ghost Stories, tell me about the book? When was it published? Who published it? Is it a novel or a collection of shorts? Where can my readers buy it?

RH: I used to have a girlfriend who owned and operated an antique store. I had the idea of writing a collection of ghost stories about various items in the store, to be used as a marketing tool. At the time I included Antique Ghost Stories in my bio I was close to self-pubbing it. I ultimately ruled against that (and her) and chose instead to submit the stories individually. Two of them have placed in contests and may be seen in The Talent Among Us ( 2008 and 2009, along with two other of my stories.

TC: One of your stories which I liked a lot was "The Reliever" because it does a brilliant job of setting up a narrative edifice only to knock it down. What was the inspiration for this story? Do you think that Hooker and his girlfriend's relationship is damaged beyond repair?

RH: I’m a big baseball fan. As with every other endeavor that ends with celebrity status, few people consider the millions that never hit the big time. Where do they go? What do they do? How do they adjust to a normal life? Hooker is unable, or unwilling to try, and his girlfriend is steady emasculating him. He has to hold on to his pride any way he can. Nothing she says or does will ever make him walk the line. I had a good model for this character; except for the part about being an ex-minor leaguer, Hooker is based on the life of my late, great big brother.

TC: So, what is next for River Huffman? Are you working on a novel? A short story collection?

RH: I’ve completed two short novels (40K words) and one full length. One of the short ones--Sling Shot--is polished and ready for submission. It’s been sent to several literary agencies already, most of whom have lauded my dialogue and characters, but shied away from signing me as a client because of Sling Shot's length and the fact that it doesn’t fit neatly into any genre. Being an unknown writer doesn’t help either. Since Sling Shot has a great story line for a movie, and it’s already dialogue driven, I’m going to turn it into a screen play and submit it everywhere I can. See you at the Oscars in about five years.