February 27, 2015 Leave a comment
As the release of our March 2015 issue of Crossborder swiftly approaches, we can’t help but sit back and think of all the fantastic authors we have been privileged enough to work with in the past years.
Ted Pelton is one of those authors. We were lucky enough to snag an interview with him this month where he filled us in on a range of topics including but not limited to what he’s currently working on and what his hopes are for those pieces. His work can be found in an array of exciting venues– Brooklyn Rail, BOMB magazine and Gargoyle just to list a few. If you have any interest in Ted’s work, what it’s like to be a writer or woodchucks read our interview with him here:
What is it with you and woodchucks? Is there a reason we keep seeing these funny creatures pop up in your creative works?
When I was a kid, as the first piece in the book explains, my family had property in the country that we’d drive to from the suburbs, and my Dad and his friends were hunters. Woodchucks were considered a nuisance, and could be shot on sight, and my Dad and buddies would pull their cars over to the side of the road when they saw woodchuck pop up in the fields, and they’d pull out rifles and shoot at them from the road, resting the gun on the hood or over the cab of the car or truck, while the kids were inside (my two brothers and I, or whatever family members were along). Looking back at this now, this seems surreal to me — but it was normal behavior for men 40-plus years ago.
Woodchucks have from this moment onward occupied a big role in my imagination, as you might imagine, because as you say they are cute & funny, but also because their corpses as so casually a feature of the landscape of New York State, and presumably elsewhere, on the sides of highways, etc. So I got the idea, thinking about folklore and scriptural texts of different traditions, of thinking of a cultural hero, Woodchuck, capital W, who might be the savior of his people, the woodchucks, who the people would look to, to avenge them for this carnage. But I am not a particularly devout person — or rather let’s say I find devotion and faith to be a complicated proposition, so my “savior” figure doesn’t understand his own role, or what he’s supposed to do, and furthermore has his own personal problems (for which folklore can provide great vehicles!): he has a penis that has a mind of its own and won’t behave, etc. I just found the whole project, which kept expanding, to be a very useful framework for talking about all sorts of things!
Your webpage states that The Trickster Woodchuck is a current project. What are your hopes for the manuscript?
It’s a weird book, and people have loved or been puzzled by the stories, with hardly any in-between. But I’ve been working on it, off and on, for about eight years, so I’d like to see it really get seen by people when it finally does get into print. It’s odd to be a writer these days, that is, one that doesn’t write deliberately for a marketable genre — you spend years working on something, and then it gets published and almost simultaneously disappears. So I’d like for that not to happen! But then, as an old mentor of mine once told our writing class, All writers feel neglected. And in those days there were still a lot of independent bookstores! Perhaps by not yet publishing it, I’m feeling that the thing can keep living, in potential…. That’s my present delusion, anyway!
I’ve noticed that a number of your stories are featured in the Brooklyn Rail. Are there other stories you’re hoping to place elsewhere?
Actually, just about the whole book is “placed” now. I’ve had pieces come out in some really nice venues over the past couple of months. My story “The Sloth and the Skunk” came out in Gargoyle this Fall, and then this winter my story “The Good Farmer and the Bad Farmer” was in BOMB, a magazine that I’ve wanted to break into for years — they are so much the pulse of what’s happening not just in writing but in the visual arts, film, and music avant-gardes. This isn’t to short-change what I’ve had going with Brooklyn Rail, which I love and which has been so lovely and supportive of the project for so many years. Donald Breckenridge, the Fiction Editor at Brooklyn Rail, is also the publisher of Red Dust Books, which specializes in works in translation, as well as the site, InTranslation. His tastes and mine are very alike — both of us grew up imbibing the weird and inventive experimental fiction of European and South American writers of the 1970s and 80s, and we’ve each sought to bring those odd ways of looking at the world into our own writing, as well as into our publishing projects, because I am also a publisher, having run Starcherone Books for many years. Brooklyn Rail has been a consistent source of wonderful and strange US and contemporary international writers for about a decade, that I’m aware of, much like Fiction International once was, back when that was a vital publication. I realize this is rather self-serving, to talk about how wonderful they are! So it goes. They published the first pieces in the Woodchuck series in 2007, and for a while Donald and I were talking about serializing, but I couldn’t keep up this pace; in total, though, the Rail has published seven pieces in seven years, of which I am very proud.
Is there an ideal “Woodchuck fan” out there? Have you noticed anything particular about your readership?
It’s an interesting question, because while I would have thought that readers of innovative and experimental fiction would be my ideal audience, the people who have responded to the pieces have been from all walks of life and shared, simply, the ability to let their minds be slightly unhinged, to be open-minded and let the work play in those spaces. I mean, we live in a world where zombies, cartoon characters, science fiction scenarios and the like are mainstream entertainment; I think that my ideal reader is someone who would be aware that such investigations and figures aren’t limited to child’s play or genre entertainment, but can be after larger quarry. There’s also very much a field of reference that is involved with American mythologies — the Kennedys, the Underground Railroad, and Hank Williams appear in different incarnations in my stories — as well as strong women characters, rewriting some of these myths. Both men and women readers have been responsive to the stories, which has made me happy.
Do you have any new projects in mind? What can readers expect next from Ted Pelton?
I’m a writer who has always taken a while with my projects and let them develop, each one different from the others. My previous longest work was a conjectural novel set in the 1940s, set in motion by a series of possible meetings between Malcolm X and Jack Kerouac during WWII (in which each of them avoided service). I also had a novella that set the Herman Melville story “Bartleby, the Scrivener” into the world of minor-league baseball. So I don’t even know what to expect. Maybe I’ll try a love story!