Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Aspiring Writers Series #7: Steve Bargdill

Let's jump right into it, shall we?

But first, if you know any writer - any writer at all - interested in being interviewed, please have them email me at with the subject INTERVIEW and I'd be happy to do so for you.

Please tell us a little about yourself (if you can provide a picture, feel free to do so).
Originally, I’m from New Knoxville, Ohio. A small little town. My graduating class numbered 18, but I’ve bounced around since then. I’ve lived in Nebraska, Iowa, Indiana, and now in Laramie, Wyoming. This August begins my first year as a graduate student at the University of Wyoming. That’s after twenty-two years of working towards my bachelor’s degree. So I’m pretty excited.
I’ve worked a lot of different jobs. Truck driving, pizza delivery, gas station attendant, newspaper reporter, marketing consultant for a real estate company. Always though in the background there has been writing. My wife tells the story of our first Nebraska winter. The heat went out, and she tells people I was down in the basement on the computer typing away with fingerless gloves and a winter coat on. I don’t remember that all—just that it was cold.
What type of books do you like to read?
Well, this is a tough question. When I was in high school I mainly read science fiction, fantasy, comic books, and my mom’s romance novels. I even wrote a letter to Roseanne Bittner. She wrote back and was incredibly supportive. I was a weird kid.
Today, I read about anything that comes along my way. Last year I read Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Crazy thick book that was recommended to me. I also read Lolita last year, which was just mind-blowing. Lolita had been on my to-read list for a while, because everyone said I had to read it. I had a difficult time wanting to read it because of its subject matter. Very glad I read it though.
Anything by Patricia A. McKillip—I think I’ve read all of her books. She kind of delves into Russian folklore, which is pretty cool.
Crow by Ted Hughes was also mind blowing. Never thought I could get into epic poetry, and I would say to anyone who doesn’t like to read poetry, they should still read Crow.
White Teeth by Zadie Smith, Shadow Lines by Amitav Ghosh. How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe. The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher.

I could go on. But, really, I don’t think I have a type. If it has words, and it was recommended by a friend or it catches my fancy at the library, I read it.
What type of books do you like to write?
The Wasteland Series is about a man dealing with grief after his wife died of cancer. Breath: An American Story is about the American dream gone horribly wrong. Currently, I’m working on The Yellow Mountains of God about a pastor who shoots an eighty-three year old man, and Banana Sandwich about a bi-polar pizza delivery driver who lives in her van.
All of these stories have strong character. They delve into the psyche of the human soul. That sounds like I’m full of myself, but what makes a person tick, what makes a person a person? How does a person relate to his or her environment?
I wrote this short story years ago: Neighborhood Mums. It’s for sale on Amazon right now, but in a few weeks I’ll be posting it to Wattpad for free. But it’s about this incredibly racist guy who lives in an incredibly multi-cultural neighborhood, and how does he deal with that? How does he deal with knowing who he is, and yet having to interact with all of these different people on a day to day basis?
Even The Dead Must Be Carried—a flash story I posted to Wattpad—it’s about a guy who steals a pair of shoes off of a man ready to be shot to death. Who does that kind of thing?
Well, we do. And that’s what I attempt to explore in my writing. I don’t think I get it right all the time, but it’s an attempt.
Beyond that, I really want to entertain. I want to write a book that the reader comes away from going, “Wow!” I want to make people cry. I want to make them laugh. I want to write books that show the readers a good time.
What are your top 3 books?  What are your top 3 authors?
These are such unfair questions. If you ask me this question a few weeks from now, a few days from now, I’ll give you totally different answers.

But right now, top three books:
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Liar by Justine Larbalestier
Un Lun Dun by China Mieville
Top three authors:
Zadie Smith, oh how I aspire to her level of writing!
Ursula Guin – I love her Earthsea series and wish I could create a fantasy world like that.
Amitav Ghosh –even though I didn’t grow up Indian or British, Shadow Lines really reminded me of my twenties.
Real quick, I’d like to add Daniel Half Human and the Good Nazi, but off the top of my head I can’t remember who wrote it.

What inspires you to write?
Again, writing has always been a part of my life. When I told my parents that my wife and I were returning to college, that we were majoring in English, my dad asked what the heck we were going to do: correct each other’s’ grammar? My brother-in-law asked if we had enough education to be able to spell our names’ correctly.
I have to admit, both comments were pretty funny. But stories weave through every aspect of life. Stories are a part of our very being. Understanding what has been written, what is being written, that sheds light on our own circumstances. Writing is a way for me to understand my life and the lives of those around me.
Wasteland was inspired by a very dark period in my own personal life. Breath was inspired by the town I grew up in, how people dealt with economic and personal downfalls. How people even rise up against those downfalls.
Each story I write has its own inspiration. My current work in progress—Banana Sandwich—inspired by all the weird stuff I’ve seen delivering pizzas.
But writing itself, there is nothing about it [the act of writing] that inspires me to tell these stories. A lot of days, it’s sitting down at the keyboard and punching word after word. It can be monotonous sometimes, the act of writing. It’s hard work, and sacrifice. Losing sleep, getting up early or staying up late or sometimes both. Ignoring my wife, my kids, to tell a story I believe in. A story that I trust. A story that has always been there, in the back of my head, itching to get out.
It’s not inspiration. It’s a I just have to. I’m lucky that I do have such a supportive immediate family. My extended family—my mom and dad, my in-laws, they’re supportive in their own way. When I put out my short anthology Color of Hope—I make fun of it, calling it my e-pamphlet—my sister-in-law was the first person to congratulate me. I’m lucky because people put up with me and put up with my idiosyncrasy.
Are you a plotter or a pantser? Why?
It depends on the story. Wasteland was extensively plotted. Banana Sandwich is pure seat of the pants work.
I think, or at least it has been my experience, that the story dictates how it is to be written. It’s weird that I have included this bit of mysticism too, because in the past I have always always plotted. However, I took a creative writing class from Brad Watson, and it was something he was trying to teach me—that the story takes on its own life, that you as the writer are not always in control of what you write.
And I thought just what balderdash, right? What complete horseshit.
Then about two months after the class had ended I was doing something super mundane. I think it was in Wal-Mart staring at bottles of aspirin. So many brands staring back at me and do I get the extra strength Tylenol or the generic ibuprofen. Do I get the fifty pills or the hundred and fifty pills. You have these moments. We all do. And right there in that moment, I was like “That’s what he was trying to tell me!”
I said it out-loud and people kind of stared a bit. Like here’s another crazy Wal-Mart shopper….

But you know what I mean. You have those moments of brilliant deduction, and It was then that I knew whether I outlined or didn’t outline, writing was about exploration, and sometimes you just have to follow the rabbit trail.

What time of day do you write?
I know that a lot of writers have rituals. They have their little cup of coffee and they sit down and play a certain kind of music or whatever. That is awesome and I can really really appreciate that.
However, I have a job. Pizza delivery for now. In a few weeks I’ll be transitioning from food service to the writing center at the University of Wyoming, but it’s still a job. Still takes time. I go to school full-time. I have a twelve year old daughter. I have a four year old son. My wife has a job and she also goes to school full-time. It’s not unusual for our apartment to be filled with neighbor kids. The TV is always on. The door is always slamming shut or banging open. Kids running in and out. Final exams to study for. Academic papers to be written.
I mean, it is crazy and I have a sneaking suspicion that this is how most people live. Everything going on at once.
So when do I write?
I write when I can. Ten minutes here. Five minutes there. A one or two hour stretch is a luxury. Sometimes, my daughter is on the computer and I dictate to her. And that annoys the heck out of her, but she does it for me and I think that is so cool.
What tool do you normally write with? (A pen, computer, phone, etc.)
For the most part, I use Scrivener. It is such an amazing program and I’m not sure what I did before without it. Microsoft Word if the story is fairly straight forward. The backs of paper napkins do in a pinch, but I always carry with me a notebook and a pen. A Uni-Ball  Signo bold 207 to be exact. Black ink. Sometimes I will get crazy and buy multiple colors, but green doesn’t flow as well for some reason.
I used I think five different colors while editing Wasteland, and that was fun. Each color meant something different. I had this whole system.
Have you ever dealt with writer's block? If so, how did you combat it?

What is writer’s block?
I have periods of time when I don’t write. But I mull a story over in my head during those periods. The plot, the characters, they’re marinating.
But it is just one word in front of another word. And then another word and another word. Even when you don’t feel like it. I think Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat, Pray, Love fame said it was a lot like being a mule.
Please tell us a little bit about your work.
Well, as I said before, the Wasteland Series inspiration comes from a very dark period of my life. I was in my early twenties. I lived in Columbus, Ohio on Twelfth Avenue pretty much across from Ohio State. It was this tiny boarding house. I had one window that was perpetually stuck open, and I was witness to some of the football riots. The last riot they [the police] dropped tear gas from helicopters and the stuff seeped into my room.
I worked at a bar. I didn’t have a car. I was struggling with my spirituality. My girlfriend was on the brink of leaving me and I knew it. And I hated it. I really wanted to understand that period of my life. Somehow make sense of it.
I also want to note that each of those stories right now cost 99 cents apiece. Around about August 15th I’ll be compiling the whole thing into a single volume for 2.99. Also, I’ll be offering the first story in the series End of Winter for free on Wattpad & for download on my website

Where did you get your idea for this story?

So Wasteland wasn’t originally titled Wasteland. The original title was Twelfth Avenue. And I also think for a while I had The Demon Hunter of Twelfth Avenue as a working title. I knew this cab driver in Columbus, and his house had burned down. He moved into the boarding house. He swore up and down he was being hunted by demons. The more I got to know him, the more I realized he was actually suffering from PTDS, even though I wasn’t really familiar with that term back then.
I was taking a creative writing class at the University of Iowa, and thinking about him, and wrote this short story. And at the end of this story, a mysterious woman shows up, saves the cab driver, then disappears.

About four years ago, I was looking at some of my old stories that I didn’t think were quite up to snuff, and I rediscovered this short story. And I started working on it, and then I stopped because I thought, I can’t write this—if my family gets a hold of this, they’ll think I’ve gone completely Looney Tunes. But then we moved to Wyoming, and the story wouldn’t let me alone, so I wrote it. Showed it to my wife. It took me two and a half years to write it. Every bit of it hard.
What challenges have you faced with writing this story?
Letting go was the hardest challenge. Like I said, I was—am—really afraid my family will get a hold of Wasteland and decide that it’s a book worth reading.
The book has got a lot of just weird shit in it. Stuff I refused to write for a long time because it wasn’t “proper” to write about that. BDSM, heroin, acid trips, drinking cat blood, eating the head of a live bird, suicide, Highway 80 in Kuwait, Viet Nam, depression, loneliness, the Catholic Church, serial killers...  I mean, who writes about all that kind of stuff and still goes about everyday life just being normal?
Apparently, I do.
Who is your favorite character to write?
There are specific plot archetypes that have been around for a long time. Man versus nature, man versus man, man versus environment, man versus machine, man versus supernatural, man versus god, and man versus self.
Personally, I think any story worth its salt though boils down to the man versus self. And that is my most favorite character to write. In Wasteland, Jack—the main character, the hero (if you can call him that)—he struggles internally with the death of his wife. Markus, the cab driver, he struggles internally with the death of his brother. Everyone in the story struggles against themselves. In my work in progress The Yellow Mountains of God, Pastor Brown struggles against God, but really he struggles against his own lack of conviction and passion. In Banana Sandwich, Carol struggles on a daily basis with her bi-polarism, how she so desperately doesn’t want to be lonely, how she fears she is becoming like her mother.
Those that struggle against themselves, those are the characters I deal with and what happens in the end, whether they change psychologically or rather they simply and finally accept who they are.
What type of romantic relationship do you like to read? (Hate/love, best friend, forbidden, etc.) is it the same type you like to write? Why or why not?

In Ghosh’s Shadow Lines, the main character was in love with his cousin Ila. She married someone else though. In Zadie Smith’s White Teeth—well, it’s complicated. Archie married totally out of his social class and a much younger woman at that too—which is just the tip of the relationships found in White Teeth. In Waiting for the Barbarians, the narrator falls in love with a native that he was partially to blame for having blinded her.
Nothing is easy in any relationship, and I like to see that kind of dynamic exposed in stories. In Wasteland: Death of Day, Lil’ begins by using Jack as a stress reliever, but falls in love with him, and then is left simply alone and hopeless when Jack rebuffs her. In Breath, the main character has an affair with the richest man in town’s wife. In The Yellow Mountains of God, Pastor Brown heads for a divorce while his wife carries on an affair with his best friend.
My own relationship to my wife has involved some turmoil—a friend of ours no longer speaks to either one of us because we got married. At one point in our marriage we sought out marital counseling.
Relationships real or fictional are simply complicated, and that’s the kind of romantic relationship I like to read about and write about as well.
What draws you to a book (to read)?

Recommendations from friends. Author interviews. Browsing book covers. My mood at any given time. All of that probably sounds superficial, but I’m a voracious reader. I’ve been known to devour a four hundred page book in a day.

But I’m also picky. If the writing isn’t up to a certain level, if I can’t get past the first page, the first paragraph, I stop reading. I don’t have the time for that kind of book.
What characteristics do you look for in your ideal heroine? Your ideal hero? Are they the same characteristics you employ when you write your heroine and your hero? Why or why not?
Jack in Wasteland is kind of the anti-hero. But not even an anti-hero because he is in a state of immobilization. He’s incapable of any kind of action. He sits there on the porch of the boarding house and smokes cigarette after cigarette and can’t even bother to clean his room to the point where he has become a hoarder—unable to even throw away the wrapper off a candy bar. I wrote the less than ideal hero in Wasteland. In Breath, however, Tulula is absolutely brazen.
Diaz created an incredible protagonist in the character of Oscar Wao, who is both sad and beautiful at the same time.
I don’t read or write for the ideal. The ideal is boring. And not real. And stories are real—fiction or not.
What are you currently reading?

I am currently rereading Terry Brook’s Sword of Shannara trilogy. The last time I read the series I was in high school. My university classes are around the bend though, and I will be diving into 18th Century British literature and taking on another foreign language, and it’s going to be pretty wild heavy deep reading. And lots of reading. Brooks I think is currently cleansing my palate.
It’s also like comfort food. I know the story. I know how it’s going to end. It makes me smile when I open his books and read about Shea and Flick.
Finally, what are the ingredients to your favorite book? (A dose of action, a splash of romance, etc.)

Favorite book. How can I choose one?
The books I’ve already mentioned in this interview—Un Lun Dun, Liar, White Teeth, Daniel Half Human—what makes them great books are the characters.

In Daniel Half Human and the Good Nazi, at the end of the book, Daniel is confronted by his childhood friend Armin, and sentences Armin to an almost certain death. I hated the way this book ended—but it could not have ended any other way, and I loved the book because of how much I hated the decision the protagonist made in the end.
Character. It’s all about character and the wretched decisions they are forced to make that show who they really are; who we as readers really are.


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