Volunteer Andrea interviews Davin Malasarn, most recently the author of The Wild Grass and Other Stories.
A: You create compelling characters quickly in your short stories. When you write, do you start with characters, emotions or something else?
Davin Malasarn: A lot of things can inspire a story for me. “Red Man, Blue Man” was inspired by a trip to a museum where I saw this beautiful and wild Aboriginal art displayed in these very austere glass cases. “The Wild Grass” was inspired by my grandmother and a story she told me. I end up starting a lot of stories, inspired by random things, but only a few of them keep going to the end before I run out of things to say. What that force is that propels them is still a mystery.
A: Many of the characters in The Wild Grass are set apart and view events from a unique vantage point. Please say more about perspective in your stories.
Davin Malasarn: When I was a kid, my family would always go to this Japanese restaurant called Yama whenever it was anyone’s birthday. I always loved it there, but when I became a more self-conscious teenager, I realized that my family’s presence in the restaurant was unusual. While every other table was filled with conversation, we were usually…okay, always…eating in silence. My family’s a quiet sort, and I’m a quiet sort, and when I create character’s I think that sense of quiet or separation is often there. I tried to resist it for a long time because it’s difficult to make a quiet person interesting to a reader. I eventually realized that I would be a better writer, not by changing my subject matter, but by getting better at figuring out how to showcase my subject matter. I want to make quiet the new black.
A: Stories in The Wild Grass occur all over the world, in different socio-economic realms and from the perspectives of each gender. Is there any organizing principle for what you choose to write about?
Davin Malasarn: I ask people a lot of personal questions like, “So how long have you been in AA?” I should probably be getting punched more often than I do. But it’s because I love trying to understand how everyone’s choices, personalities, and backgrounds fit together. I try to keep those elements in place. That’s what takes my stories around the world.
As sappy as it sounds, though, I do see an organizing principle. There was that series of sad Harry Harlow experiments in the late 50s where baby monkeys were forced to choose between the robotic monkey mom that provided milk or the robotic monkey mom that provided a comfortable terry cloth to sleep on. The babies always chose the terry cloth. That gets at the unifying theme in my writing.
A: How has your writing process and writing style evolved?
Davin Malasarn: When I first started writing, I spent more of my brain power focusing on the basics of storytelling. Now, even though I won’t say I’ve mastered the art, I don’t worry about the basics as much. I care more about keeping every sentence interesting and engaging. I guess my writing style has evolved toward that sort of micro-level fluidity. The details interest me more than the big picture does these days. I think I tuck in a lot more interesting material between the key plot points.
5. What did you learn from the process of publishing The Wild Grass?
I expected to learn something that I couldn’t predict–that’s just the nature of the beast, isn’t it? And that indeed happened. I got this e-mail from someone who read the book. She said, “We need to read ‘The Wild Grass.’ It feeds our hungry souls.” So, okay, I’m sure this is a lot of flattery. Still, it helped to clarify something for me. I do get a sense that souls are hungry. My soul is hungry. I’m attempting to satisfy that hunger. I have no idea how or if I can ever do that, but it’s my goal.
A: You blog at the The Literary Lab. What inspired you to do that?
Davin Malasarn: I was working in France when I decided to start the Literary Lab. One of my reasons was simply loneliness. I was far away from my writing friends in the U.S., and I needed that connection again. The other reason, the reason I called it a “Lab,” was because this was an experiment on networking in cyberspace. I wanted to see how difficult (or easy) it was to market myself. So my intentions weren’t as pure when I started, but now I blog just to have fun and show my passion for writing.
A: What kinds of literary projects are you working on now?
Davin Malasarn: I recently finished two novellas that are crime inspired. One is about a cannibal, and the other is about a man who abducts a young girl. They’re dark subjects that captured my attention because I wanted to understand what those criminals were really after. What was their terry cloth monkey mom? Now, I’m working on a novel about a group of people who are able to live forever, but they can’t move. A fictional Dalai Lama is one of the characters. I don’t know how this book is going to end, yet, but I will hopefully know soon.
A: If readers are interested in The Wild Grass and Other Stories where can they find it?