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STEVE ALMOND is the author of ten books of fiction and nonfiction, most recently the story collection God Bless America, which features a Best American Short Stories 2010 selection, “Donkey Greedy, Donkey Gets Punched,” and which won the 2012 Paterson Fiction Prize. A frequent contributor to the New York Times Magazine, the Rumpus and the Boston Globe, Almond is among the nation’s most arresting essayists on culture and politics.
WILLIAM GIRALDI is the author of the novel Busy Monsters and fiction editor for the journal AGNI at Boston University. In addition to being a novelist and memoirist, Giraldi is also a literary critic whose essays and reviews appear frequently in the New York Times Book Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books and the Daily Beast. His next two books, a novel and a memoir, are forthcoming from Norton.
Both authors use humor to excavate the messy truths of human emotions. Fellow Bostonians and close friends for a decade, Almond and Giraldi allowed me to interview them outside their reading at Real Art Ways in Hartford, Connecticut, on October 18, 2011. [End Page 155]
How would you define voice in writing, particularly voice in short fiction?
You’ve been writing more short fiction. Do you have a rap on voice?
I believe I’ve got a rap on voice. And by voice, you mean style, I take it. When you’re talking about voice, are you talking about the voice of the writer or the voice of the character himself? For example: Barry Hannah. He has a voice, a language, that’s pretty uniform throughout all his books, no matter which character’s perspective he’s writing from. But if you look at Steve’s short stories, the voice varies a little bit—
Depending on who the character is. So voice, or style, has to fit that character, his or her vision. Steve’s collection My Life in Heavy Metal—those stories all have the same theme of longing and of shame.
No. That’s not true.
Of young people struggling to make it through their tumultuous lives.
Wrong. Wrong. That’s a lie. Don’t listen to that.
But whether the story is in first person or third person, that voice shifts a little bit. It shifts because it has to match the vision of the character. So whenever you say “voice,” I think you’ve got to connect it to vision. Go ahead, Steve. It’s your turn.
Well, let me give you an example of Billy’s early work because I know Billy’s early work pretty well. Like he knows mine not very well, actually. Totally mischaracterized my work!
This is typical of young writers. Young writers want to be taken seriously. They want the world to take them seriously, and they think it’s important not to joke around, to not make light of anything, be like [End Page 156] Hemingway and Faulkner, all the badasses that get the big awards. So Billy’s early work, although it’s interesting, was pretty self-serious and curtailed. This was true of his fiction and nonfiction. It wasn’t bad. It was competent and occasionally had pathos, but it was very obedient.
And then he showed me the book you’ll hear him read from tonight, Busy Monsters. The voice wasn’t just like the full range of Billy’s personality had gotten onto the page. It was as if he had found a voice that was an exaggerated version of who he is. His kind of machismo and his erudition and all the stuff that is in his personality that as a friend of his, I knew had been turned up to eleven. Which is, I think, my conception of voice. Voice is an effort to get onto the page a version of your natural speaking voice, edited into eloquence, amped up by the writerly attention you have while you’re at the keyboard.
You’re saying about first...