It’s always exciting for us at Longridge Review to get publishing news from one of our essayists. Mike Chin’s short story collection, You Might Forget the Sky Was Ever Blue (Duck Lake Books, September 2019), is out this month. Do not miss Mike’s thoughts, ideas, and advice about his work and the writing life . . . and don’t forget to order his book!
Q: You Might Forget the Sky was Ever Blue is your first full-length short story collection. Congratulations! The book includes stories about a third grade teacher in Baltimore trying to make sense of the 2016 election campaign to students, a teenage sexual assault survivor making his way through a changed world, and a boy is raised to believe he’s Hulk Hogan’s little brother. Though fiction, they sound inspired by real life. Can you talk a bit about how the genres of fiction and creative nonfiction relate as well as diverge?
A: I’m a big believer that nothing in life happens in a vacuum. Everything affects everything else, and that very much includes the pop culture we ensconce ourselves in, which might include politics, music, movies, television, and even professional wrestling.
Rather than playing coy in a (likely as not futile) effort to make the stories timeless, a number of these stories lean into their surrounding culture from the real world to enrich the characters and setting. The first story in the collection, “Prophecy,” is very much set during the 2016 presidential election campaign and uses social media as a source of chronic tension throughout. The story “Brother” uses Hulk Hogan’s evolution as a public figure as a backdrop for understanding the protagonist’s place in life and worldview.
Q: Book promos say Sky includes experiments in form with a social conscience. What exactly does that mean?
A: Two stories in particular—“Prophecy” and “Better”—lean into collage style structures that jump around a lot. In the former, the story aims to gather a bit of what it was like to be an average citizen during an especially tumultuous moment in American history. Conversely, “Better” uses its snippets to span a lifetime, gathering snapshots across decades that the reader can piece together to understand the whole.
In regards to the social conscience of the book, some of the glue that binds this manuscript includes leaning into uncomfortable conversations around political leadership, sexual assault, how we society treats people from the LGBT community, and more. Rather than taking a ‘there are good people on all sides’ stance, the collection, or at least the characters from these stories, do take positions, and it’s up to the reader to decide whether or to what degree they agree—but at least (I hope) they’re thinking.
Q: Your essay for Longridge Review, The Bionic Elbow: On Fathers, Sons, and the American Dream, has elements in it I recognize in Sky; there may be more. I really love that essay, the way you braid in and out of seemingly disparate experiences like professional wrestling, fatherhood, emerging sexuality, parental expectations, death/loss –somehow you make it all connect. Do you have any special process for this kind of writing, do you plan to do it in advance or do you just write and weave it together as you go?
A: I’ve experimented with this style of writing (most directly influenced by Maggie Nelson) in a number of pieces—fiction, non-fiction, poetry. Typically, I’ve drafted pieces like this in a pretty linear fashion, truly letting my mind wander and make organic connections. I will admit that there’s a deceptively high level of revision typically required after that first draft, though, to buff out the pieces that really are more flights of fancy than essential to the text, and to make connections that feel clear enough to me more explicit for readers living outside my head.
Q: Do you have a favorite story in Sky? What is it and why?
A: While I’d probably call “Prophecy” my favorite for its structure, contemporary concerns, and bits and pieces borrowed from my own life, I’ve probably already spent too much interview space talking about that one. So, I’ll go to the next one down the line, the title story, “You Might Forget the Sky was Ever Blue.” It connects to the story that comes before it in the collection, “The End of the World,” which ends on a traumatic experience. “You Might Forget” picks up on the aftermath, which I feel is too often given short shrift in storytelling—the more administrative pieces of school officials sorting through a messy issue and how that intersects with someone’s personal experience. It’s a story that was largely born out of the years I spent as an administrator for an educational program, taking those less glamorous behind the scenes tasks and carving some art out of them.
I’m a prolific drafter and feel pretty adamant that, if I like a piece of writing, I’d rather see it out in the world somewhere than sitting dormant on my hard drive.
Q: You publish a lot of writing, with work either in or forthcoming in over 200 publications. What advice do you have for other writers about getting your work out there?
A: I’m a prolific drafter and feel pretty adamant that, if I like a piece of writing, I’d rather see it out in the world somewhere than sitting dormant on my hard drive. So, I make conscious effort to submit regularly and widely, not being afraid to shoot for the stars with the pieces I most believe in, or to take a chance on a less established venue with pieces I’m not as confident will connect with editors. I know some folks prefer to be more selective about where they publish, and I can respect that, but for those who may be more interested in publishing widely, I advocate for getting in listservs and social media groups that advertise calls for submissions you might not come across more organically. There’s such an advantage to placing work with venues that are actively seeking submissions (especially from less established writers) as opposed to only submitting to publications that already have overwhelming submission queues.
Q: What’s the best way for readers and writers to keep up with you and your work? (website, Twitter, etc.)
A: I’m active on Twitter and publicize most anything I publish there. I also try to keep my website up to date, and I update my blog at least twice most months.