Wednesday, March 21, 2012

an interview with domi shoemaker

Friend and fellow writer Domi Shoemaker will be making her fiction reading debut this Friday at [PANK]'s Portland Invasion at EAT Chapel at Crow Arts Manor [850 NE 81st Ave.], and I thought it would be fun to ask her some questions about her story, her publication and the reading. I first got to know Domi through Tom Spanbauer's Dangerous Writing fiction workshop. When she speaks of the DW Army, she's speaking of this group...

What was your inspiration for the story "Green Man"?

domi receiving scholarship
My inspiration for "Green Man" came when I was taking a class at the Attic Institute with David Ciminello (thanks to a scholarship from fellow Dangerous Writers, the DW Army). We were supposed to write about something peculiar or queer in the class. I had a completely different story started about my coming out process, but this other piece kept scratching at the back of my brain. At that time, I was in Tom Spanbauer’s Dangerous Writers class and was working on this nightmare scene that the narrator in my larger piece (novel…) was trying to describe. The nightmare that was in the story was complete fiction and it just fell flat. Tom asked me if I ever had a real recurring dream or nightmare, and I said yes. So he asked me to do a free-write on it. I simultaneously had the assignment in Ciminello’s class, so I holed myself up at the computer with a pair of headphones on, volume off, and started writing.  The first draft of "Green Man" came out as two pages, in first person, with Gumdrop as the narrator. I made it a stand-alone piece that is now seven pages.

Your first publication came about from your first time trying your hand at submitting to literary magazines. How does that feel? 

domi & lidia yuknavich
Yes, "Green Man" was my first published piece, and it was my first time submitting a piece. I was fortunate that I was given a bit of direction by Lidia Yuknavich. I had met Lidia a few weeks earlier, after emailing and chatting back and forth, trying to connect up to have her sign a couple of copies of [her book] The Chronology of Water for me. I finally caught up with her by (consensually) waiting outside a class she was teaching at Crow Arts Manor. When she came out, I rolled up beside her in my car, and she hopped in and said it was her first ever drive-by signing. We talked for a few minutes and have a really cool connection ever since. A couple of weeks after that first meeting, I asked her to take a look at "Green Man," and she did and said I should submit it to [PANK], so I did. A few weeks after that, I got an email that they were going to publish it online. "Green Man" came out in the January 2012 edition!

[pank]-happy face
I am attaching a pic of my face when I opened the email. That’s how I felt. Totally surprised and eternally grateful to everyone who has guided me and supported me along the way. Then I instantly got in an argument with myself and told me that I was making too big a deal about it. I told me to fuck off and enjoy the experience. I still have to do that every now and then.

Your writing voice is very particular. Can you speak a little about how you constructed this narrative language?

First came the character. Harley is a character in my larger piece, my novel. He is the fictionalized result of me accessing the part of me that holds on to anger. Growing up in the late sixties and early seventies after an ugly divorce and with a single mom, I gravitated to the cultural icons of ass-kicking justice. John Wayne, Billy Jack and the lone biker, like in Easy Rider, were archetypal figures that made sense to me. Always conflicted and struggling with moral ambiguity but ultimately coming out the protector/hero. Of course, I didn’t know why I was so drawn to them when I was a kid, but it makes sense now. Harley’s name is fictional, but his existence, his appearance, his moral character and his actual voice in my head is familiar and pretty easy to access. He’s a mixture of all three of those archetypes, the cowboy, the martial arts expert and the biker. Who knows who the narrator would have been if Buffy the Vampire Slayer was big when I was a kid? 

Fine-tuning the piece was a matter of shutting everything in my external world off and going as deep as I could internally to access the experience of terror and disorientation that happens in an actual nightmare. I used things I have learned with Tom about screwing up language to say things in new and interesting ways.  I tried to put enough description in the piece to bring the reader in, but not so much that it takes away from the tension. I tried to use minimal, stark description and intense bursts of language with a rise and fall of cadence to intensify and build tension that really elicits a visceral response from the reader.  Of course, the story itself is pretty intense, but there is so much to learn about how to tell a story!

Who have been some of your greatest literary inspirations?

Early on, I’d say Dr. Seuss. Because the pictures were funny, and he used language every which way. I read constantly when I was a kid, and over a couple of years, I read the entire set of Encyclopedia Britannica that was given to us. I read through the dictionary all the time just to learn words my older brothers didn’t know. The first grown up book I fell in love with was Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities when I was twelve. I am not sure I understood everything, but I was enthralled. Then I read Great Expectations, and at about that time, my brothers both moved away, and I escaped into Tolkein. Then Edgar Allan Poe. I fancied myself a poet as a teenager and read Sylvia Plath and eventually picked up Erica Jong. Is this too much? I always go on like this. Honestly, Tom, lovely Tom Spanbauer, is one of my greatest inspirations. His work resonates with me. And we are both from Idaho. See? There is hope!

When Green Man was published on [PANK], you were also given the opportunity to produce an audio edition of the story. What was that process like?

Yes, as part of the acceptance letter, I was informed that they liked to archive recordings of their contributors reading their stories. It was interesting. They asked for a simple mp3 of our story. I downloaded their suggested shareware and recorded it myself at my desk. The first time I recorded "Green Man," I listened to it and it had the accent of the character Harley that I didn’t even realize had come out. It sounded strange to me, and was afraid someone would think it was contrived or that I was trying too hard, so I recorded a different one. It took me quite a few times to get it anywhere near okay, and what you can hear on the website is the result of that. It sounds strange to me, and I am accustomed to hearing my voice recorded. I think Harley just comes through no matter what.

This Friday will be your first public reading of fiction. Have you rehearsed the piece? Will you be winging it?

I have rehearsed the piece quite a bit and am still rehearsing it. I am not going to wing it, because I want to be as prepared as I can be. It’s scary enough going up in front a bunch of artsy literary types who probably know what things ought to sound like without going up knowing you are going to sound like a damn fool. (okay, that was Harley).

What do you think this experience will be like?

I think it will be fun. It won’t be fun like being drunk and going up in front of a bunch of people lip-syncing or emceeing a drag show. And it won’t be reading erotic poetry in front of a bunch of Dirty Queers (google Dirty Queer PDX) kind of fun, but it will be a different kind of fun. It will be serious I am going to read you a gripping heartbreaking story kind of fun. There is always a place for that. Right?

What else are you working on now?

I am working on my n-n-n-n-novel in Dangerous Writers, and I am working on a couple different short stories, one of which might be adapted for the novel.


Domi will be reading with Hobie Anthony, Ryan Bradley, Monica Drake, Rebecca Olson, M. Bartley Seigel and yours truly at EAT Chapel on Friday. The reading starts at 7pm.

Facebook event page is here.

You can check out [PANK] and "Green Man" here.


Domi. An Idaho born, gender fucker whose early writing career climaxed at age 15, writing epitaphs in hometown papers after a string of teenage drunk driving accidents. 32 years later, Domi spends Thursday nights under the tutelage of Tom Spanbauer in Dangerous Writers, mucking through shit to get to the gold.


[note: i've been told we'll be making each other's intros for friday's readings. i'd been disappointed to know that i wouldn't have the honor of introducing domi [we're going in alphabetical order] but now that i see the bio she sent me, me being the public weiner that i am, i'm kind of glad i don't have to bring along two bits for the swear jar...]

1 comment:

  1. Super enjoyed the interview and happy to know, you, on occasion, feed a little swear jar