Court Merrigan is the author of the short story collection Moondog Over The Mekong (Snubnose Press) and he’s got short stories out or coming soon in Needle, Weird Tales, Plots With Guns, Shotgun Honey and Noir Nation. He is currently shopping a novel, The Broken Country, a postapocalyptic Western. Links at http://courtmerrigan.com . He also runs the Bareknuckles Pulp Department at Out of the Gutter and is an Editor at Gutter Books. He lives in Wyoming with his family.
Court sez: I lived in East Asia for a decade and have an MA in Japanese. Now I’m back in Wyobraska (I could append a map if you’d like) and that MA comes in for little use. I’ve been slogging up writing trail in serious fashion for a good 12 years now, and just a couple months ago finally – finally- got an agent, Adriann Ranta of WolfLit. I’ve racked up more than 500 rejections for short stories and novel manuscripts along the way, some of which I used to tally on my blog. Now I do some rejecting of my own as an editor at Out of the Gutter Online and Gutter Books, which isn’t nearly as much fun as I thought I’d be. Sucks to turn people down.
While my current novel is being shopped, I’m working on another novel, some hardcore country noir tentatively entitled The Three Days & Nights of Lamar Tilden. I work on this when my kids (5 & 2) are asleep in the early mornings or late evenings. Bourbon helps, but not as much as you’d think.
Do you consider yourself a writer of literary fiction or crime fiction? Why?
Can I answer neither? I like to think what I write is pulp – aimed at maintaining the fictive dream, and all else subordinate to that.
Having said that, I wrote literary fiction for a long time, and I still like the turn of a good sentence.
The settings in Moondog over the Mekong vary widely where most fiction is set in a generic presumably suburban place. Was this a deliberate choice? How important did you consider locale?
Oh, totally deliberate. Mainly because the locales I write about – the rural Mountain West, Southeast Asia and Japan – these are the places I’ve lived nearly my whole life, with a brief stint back east in Omaha for college. I wouldn’t feel qualified to write about the suburbs. I’ve only ever visited there, briefly. I don’t know how the suburbs work. I don’t understand them.
Locale means a great deal to me. I’m a regionalist. To take one example, once you cross that 100th Meridian, you’re no longer in the Midwest! In Japan, I lived for two years in the western Kansai region, where people take regional pride very seriously – they have their own dialect, and pointedly do not speak like the suits in Tokyo. In Thailand, too, people are very proud of their regional identities and I always found that really fascinating. People are people, sure; but you’re going to act differently out in the open of a howling Wyoming blizzard than a snowstorm in Toledo.
My favorite story is ‘Our Mutual Friend,’ which features expert use of multiple perspectives. How did you come to the decision to label each narrative with character names?
I’ve always jealously admired Faulkner’s masterwork As I Lay Dying, which is the best example of multiple, first-person points of view that I know. I’ve been trying to imitate that novel ever since I read it, to varying degrees of failure. “Our Mutual Friend” is my latest stab at it.
Some stories, I think, are just better told when we get to hear more than one side of the story. I do wish, now, that I had included the point of view of the bad father in the story, though. He’s got something to say, too, even if it might be loathsome to hear.
Man, I’ve been working on various drafts of that story for seven years. It’s actually the first chapter of the novel that really recently landed me an agent. The full manuscript is a post-apocalpytic Western, but really, I started with one of the oldest tropes of them all: lone mysterious outlaw riding down a dark trail. You know all kinds of shooting and mayhem are going to follow and I just can’t resist writing it out.
I assume you’ve seen a bit of cockfighting. What’s your opinion of that sport, or sports in general like football and boxing and MMA, the ones Harry Crews called blood sports?
Cockfighting is some brutal shit, man. It may be a sport for the spectators and for the bettors, but it’s deadly serious for the birds. Birds are supposed to have evolved from dinosaurs, right? The couple of times I watched them fight over in Thailand, you could really see that reptilian side of the cocks, just slashing and slaying. I mean, roosters in amazingly stupid animals, but it’s still hard to see them in pain, especially when that pain is inflicted by the stimuli they have no control over. It’s not like they’re fighting for hens or something, you know? I don’t think I could really be a fan.
Having said that, I am a fan of the “blood sports.” Football in particular. Growing up in Nebraska, Husker football is religion, and while I know intellectually that big-time college football is corrupting to institutions of higher education and that big-time football players are, for the most part, exploited in gladiator-like fashion (what is football if not America’s gladiator sport?), I love the hell out of it anyway. Saturday mornings in the fall, man, I wake up jangly, knowing I’m going to be screaming at the TV in a few hours. I can’t justify it and I’ve given up trying.
What’s the story of your book’s publication? How did you end up at Snubnose Press?
I only ever got on Twitter because of Snubnose. When they first started out, I couldn’t figure out how to get a hold of them except on Twitter, so I made an account and started tweeting at Brian Lindenmuth, who runs the press. Eventually I got an email address where I could send a query, and we went from there.
I had various iterations of what ultimately became Moondog Over The Mekong out at as many places as I could think of, but Snubnose came through first. The whole crew there, especially Brian and Eric Beetner, who designed the cover, have been a great pleasure to work with.
How has your work as an editor affected the way you write?
Absolutely. Here’s the main thing I’ve learned: Every. Single. Word. Counts. I stop reading plenty of submissions midstream at Out of the Gutter and formerly at PANK because the fictive dream was broken (admittedly, there is a different calculus involved with poetry). I learned, too, that the writer is not particularly important in the story: the reader is. Elsewise there’s no point in writing. Unless you’re writing a diary. If you can’t keep a reader engaged, little else you do on the page matters.
What projects do you have in the pipeline?
My agent, Adriann Ranta, is shopping my novel, called The Broken Country, the first chapter of which you can find in my Moondog Over The Mekong. (Can I just say here that I only got an agent, like, six weeks ago, and it still gives me a little shivery thrill to type “my agent”?) So I’m hopeful that will find a home somewhere relatively soon. In the meantime, I’m working on two other novels, one a historical fantasy set in proto-Southeast Asia, tenatively called Strider, the other a rural noir thriller set in Wyobraska called The Three Days & Nights of Lamar Tilden. Hope to get both of those done in the next several months, with hopes that Adriann will find them marketable and so will some editors out there.
Haven’t been working much on short stories recently.
Would you like to bring attention to some of your work online, or something else you think deserves attention?
I just had a story called “The Last Ladder” go up in Plots With Guns ( http://www.plotswithguns.com/PWGDecember2012/stories/Story-merrigan-1.html) which I’m really fond of – there aren’t enough stories set in the rural Mountain West, in my opinion, so I’m trying to, you know, fill in the gap. I also have a postapocalyptic sci-fi piece coming out soon in Big Pulp, and a reprint of a story that originally appeared in Grift called “City of Screams” coming out in a Press 53 anthology called Home of the Brave. It’s about a wounded Native American veteran of Afghanistan returning home to the reservation, where he takes on the bullshit he finds there with a limp and an automatic rifle. Not based on a true story by any means, but if you google “Whiteclay, Nebraska” you’ll get an idea of the kind of bullshit I’m talking about.
I’d also like to mention that Gutter Books is up and running and we’re looking for the hardest-hitting pulp you can throw at us. Find details at http://www.gutterbooks.com/2009/01/submissions-reading-period-is-from.html And we’re always looking for good flash fiction and short fiction for Out of the Gutter Online. Sub at https://outofthegutteronline.submittable.com/submit
Thanks, Rusty, for the chat. You gave my stuff a shot both here at FC&C http://www.friedchickenandcoffee.com/2011/08/11/first-water-fiction-by-court-merrigan/) and at the (now sadly defunct) Night Train ( http://www.nighttrainmagazine.com/contents/merrigan_11_1.php) , and both times it was a real shot in the arm, you know? I was going through a rough period then, writing-wise, and you were someone out there in the wide world who didn’t think the stories I was kidnapping pixels for were just crap. Can’t thank you enough for that.