Quotes | Bob Thurber on Writing

Bob Thurber (Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel; Nothing but Trouble), one of the finest writers in the English language (and a personal acquaintance), has been a literary mentor of mine for over fifteen years now. I recently stumbled across some more sage writing advice from him over on his Goodreads page.

“Remember . . . keystrokes are hammer taps. Get words on paper. Don’t worry about connections, character or plot. Work for an hour. Promise yourself an hour. Do nothing else but move your fingers. Make coarse shapes. Follow any emotion that pops up but never impose emotion, never fake it, and don’t make up your mind or your heart ahead of time. Understand you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s why you’re here. Rough it out. Anything goes. You can decide later what any piece of text looks like, what it might mean. Don’t stop. Don’t question. Don’t quit. Don’t stop to read what you wrote. Move your fingers. You mind will have no other option but to keep up. Remember that writer’s block is merely the cold marble waiting for the chisel to heat up.” ― Bob Thurber

“The first thing I check once I’m inside a story is the emotional weather. Is there a storm coming? What’s the temperature, and how powerful are the winds? The difference between walking on water and sliding one’s ass across slick ice is only a matter of degree.” ― Bob Thurber

He’s right, of course. On both topics. Thurber has been (and will continue to be) a frequent topic on this here blog. Historically he’s been a major influence on my short story prose, particularly my microfiction, which I really need to get back to myself. Reading his words always gets the gears turning in my head.

 

 

 

 

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The Rucker Report: Week 16, 2015 – A State of Revision

28368403-vector-silhouette-of-a-man-sitting-at-a-computer-on-a-white-backgroundMost of my best writing occurs during the “Triple R” phase: re-writing, revision and refinement. I guess you could throw rereading in there too, but that’s a given. Ah, yes, the revision phase.  No matter how old the original draft was, the later draft will almost always be greatly improved.

Howdy, y’all.  I am returned.

So, yeah, I’m still in revisions with a handful of old stories.  I actually look forward to SMH moments when doing line-by-line revisions.  What can I say, I’m easily entertained.  What I find interesting about revising and refining old works is how often the Writer Me of Today vehemently disagrees with the Writer Me of Yesteryear.  Writer Me of Today is a great deal more picky and often dissatisfied with many initial word choices or turns of phrase.  Just as a point of distinction: The Writer Me of the 1990s had not yet read and reviewed hundreds of short stories in workshops, nor read, edited and selected for publication several dozen short stories for an online webzine, nor read, edited and selected from dozens of short stories to compile and publish an anthology.  Nor had he yet been schooled by the likes of stingy wordsmiths (and personal literary idols to boot) like Elmore Leonard or Bob Thurber.  In jive terms: 1990s Writer Me didn’t know shit!  Even early 2000s Writer Me was just starting to get a true education in fluid, hooky prose.  However, Writer Me of Yesteryear had far less demands of his time and attention.  In an apples-to-apples comparison, that’s what I call an unfair advantage.

However, in regards to some of my older works, published or otherwise, I am reluctant to touch them for ‘improvements’ because some older works are special snapshots in one’s life and journey as a developing writer.  For instance, there’s an old story of mine dating back to 1997 called “All Things Considered” which was finally published in 2010.  Sure, I spruced it up a great deal before submitting it, but if I am being honest I know it’s still the mark of a naïve storyteller because my emotional attachment to its original essence was not something I wanted to part with.  Even now as I contemplate republishing it, I am reluctant to significantly change it to improve it, short of line edits and deep proofing.  It’s a peculiar situation, I know.

It has recently occurred to me that should maybe start posting excerpts of various works, whether in-progress, sitting on-deck for submission or previously published.  I talk a lot about writing here (‘cuz, y’know, I’m a writer and stuff) so it’s probably high time some of it get featured here in this theater of text.

And now for the In Case You Missed It portion of the program. The previous two updates heralded the coming publication of a little crime story of mine called “Four Deep”.  It was accepted back in early February by Dead Guns Press and was supposed to be published March 29th.  Well, it didn’t quite make it that day, but it did finally go live on Wednesday, April 8th.  Have a read, though I should caution there’s a bit of mature (or immature) language in its contents.

In non-fiction writing news, I recently changed my mind and re-activated my little blog that’s dedicated to an old favorite pastime.  Yes, this is mere weeks after saying I’d simply just move that particular themed operation here for the convenience of consolidation.  However, for me, the very niche nature of graphic fiction, and the love and adulation for it, demands its own space and forum in which to be revered.  So, yeah, if you’re inclined you can check out Brandon Rucker’s Comic Book Fetish from time to time to see what’s got my mind going over there.  I actually have more comic book-y stuff to discuss, but that’s a whole other post of its own soon enough.

And finally, since the last Rucker Report update here, on March 15th I wrote the music for the third song in my new band’s catalogue.  A few weeks ago my co-guitarist B.J. Walker came over to add his embellishments to it so that we’re not both playing the same thing the whole time.  I can’t wait to see how the rhythm section reacts musically to this rockin’ little number, that’s probably influenced by bands such as Refused, Fugazi and Jawbox.  I’m quite stoked for band practice this coming Wednesday as we will be breaking in our new bassist.  Hopefully by summer’s end I’ll have some recorded music to share, or at the very least a raw video from a rehearsal session.  We should probably take a band photo soon too.  And finally decide on a band name.

Well, that’s all the news that fits.

Y’all be good each other and stuff.

-BLR

Aside

BOOK: Nothing But Trouble – Stories by Bob Thurber

My old friend Bob Thurber, the winner of numerous literary awards, is on a roll. In 2011 he  released the stark, unforgiving and rather audacious novel Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel (Casperian Books), followed by Nickel Fictions: 50 Exceedingly Brief Stories and Cinderella She Was Not: a novelette — both self-published in 2013, and now here in 2014 he’s just released Nothing But Trouble (Shanti Arts Publishing), another collection of stories, this time accompanied by the complimentary images of photographer Vincent Louis Carrella.

From the press copy: This uncompromising collection of stories comes from the widely acclaimed and award winning master of the short story, Bob Thurber. Here he weaves his tales around such facets of the human condition as Fathers and Fools, Women and Children, Marriage and Divorce, and Art and Artifice. Typically unsettling and revelatory, Thurber knows how to cast a story that depicts the coarse reality of life, and his skills are displayed here with both passion and sentiment. Thurber gives the reader a chance, not to peek, but to plunge head first into the deep, dark mystery of simple existence. Accompanied by photographs by the equally intrepid wordsmith and image maker Vincent Louis Carrella.

I’ve been reading, associating with and drawing inspiration and influence from Bob Thurber for the better part of fifteen years now from the early days of Internet socializing we and hundreds of other writers did on the online writer’s workshop (which as it turns out was a social media forerunner. Surely you remember the Zoetrope Virtual Studio, right?). Thurber, whether by will or nomination, was a de facto mentor to a lot of us young budding writers there at the tail end of the last century and we’re all the better for it. I’ve mentioned probably ad nauseam here and elsewhere the tremendous impact Thurber’s writing has had on my own prose work. And I know that through his work and generous sharing of his time, there’s no telling how many up-and-coming writers he’s helped the past decade or more. And readers too, as much of his fiction tends to hit on such a realistic and revelatory level that it can be cathartic.

About three years back I had the distinct honor of not only interviewing — in two parts — my esteemed mentor (I won’t say peer; he’s on a whole other level), but I also had the privilege to acquire a few pieces of his works for publication in the Liquid Imagination webzine when I was an editor there. For our 8th issue of LI I even performed a nifty voice reading of his micro story “Grave Invitation” (a work of his that is also featured in the aforementioned Nickel Fictions collection).

If you like your prose fiction short, honest, straight-to-the-heart and steeped in the oftentimes stunning enigmas of real-life, then you should most definitely be reading the work of Bob Thurber. You’ve been informed. — B.

Nothing But Trouble
Stories by Bob Thurber
Images by Vincent Louis Carrella 
$22.95  |  ISBN: 978-0-9885897-6-6 

available at www.shantiarts.com
most online booksellers and many fine bookstores

Update: My Reading and Writing Activities

It’s summer reading season in my household. Wife & kids have already begun their preemptive strike and as the proverbial slowpoke I’m playing catchup. I went to the library this past weekend to pay my dues…I told the library clerk that I was paying my annual dues. She chuckled, but I as serious. I always end up paying at least about $10 bucks a year to the local library for late fees. It’s just my way of giving back to the community. At least that’s my way of looking at it.

As for summer reading, unfortunately I am at a huge disadvantage because I have lots on my writing plate this summer, with a major editing project to wrap up in early July, and a novel to get back to. Since wrapping up the latest issue of Liquid Imagination in May, I’ve gone into selfish mode for June as I am spit-shining and polishing the dozen and a half stories selected for my forthcoming short story collection (tentatively due late September), one story at a time. Most of these stories go back some years, and today I’m a different writer in alot of ways than I was then, so it’s always interesting to revisit old works and apply the current you to blend with the old you. Since I’m my own worst critic, I’ve enlisted the help of a couple of colleagues who are just as ruthless as editors as I. I still have four stories I’m finalizing for specifically-themed anthologies as well that I’m pushing to the finish line. [More on the story collection as I get closer to release. I’ll reveal the title and the cover in due time.]

July is still bullseyed as official ‘back-to-the-novel’ month as has been the goal all year long, but prior to that I will need to close out the editing/formatting of the Local Heroes anthology I’m doing for Static Movement. The deadline is June 30th and I have a head start on the editing, but I will have to intensify efforts in the closeout to meet my goals.

Nonetheless, I squeeze in reading whenever I can. Don’t want to be lagging too far behind the family, voracious reading creatures that they are. In my backpack is a rotation of the following books currently:

 

 
Paperboy, a book I’ve tasked myself with promoting for my author buddy Bob Thurber, is a great read (I’m about a third through it so far).
Stories: All New Tales will likely only have a handful of great stories, one of which by Neil Gaiman himself.
 
I love noir and hardboiled fiction, especially when it’s just straight up crime fiction. This huge Best of American Noir book tapped me on the should at the library and gravelly said “Eh, you need to read me, bub.” A lot of my favorite crime writers are in there like Ed Gorman, Mickey Spillane, Elmore Leonard, and David Morrell.
Beneath the Surface of Things by Kevin Wallis. He’s another writer buddy I’d like to promote as well. He’s hard at work on his debut novel, but this is his short story collection form last year that is at least partially responsible for me deciding to release one as well, though mine won’t be nearly as good as his. Dude’s a heck of a horror, writer, if you dig that.
And recent additions to the stack o’ comics on my desk:
My first ever issue of Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’ Criminal. Not a bad read. As a set up issue it’s a bit slow, but judging by the cliffhanger ending shit’s about to get real interesting.
Rick Remender continues to write the best book in Marvel’s X-Men franchise and that is Uncanny X-Force. He’s arguably the X-Men’s best scribe since Grant Morrison in the early 2000s. Very pleased with this series, just wish they’d settle on a permanent and good artist (Jerome Opena, please!).
Two indie books from Image Comics that really got me excited about all the diverse creator-owned stuff coming from them lately (including Elephant Men which I still haven’t read yet). Undying Love (by Thom Coker and Daniel Freedman) is a cool ass action noir Japanese/American vampire movie distilled into a darkly beautiful comic. Two issues in and I’m hooked (of couse it’d be better collected into graphic novel, my preferred method of reading). But I’m along for the monthly ride…for now.
After picking up Nonplayer of the shelf and looking at its beautiful pages, there was no way I couldn’t buy it. Stunningly gorgeous art by Nate Simpson. I love the concept as well. Unfortunately he’s a one-man show on this comic, drawing it digitally on his computer, so he warns in the afterword that this series will be slow coming. But I think it will be worth the irregular wait.
What I haven’t read is a good biography in a while. I read biographical books much faster than fiction tomes for some reason. There are pleny on my to-read list too.
Sigh.

Interview: A Conversation with Bob Thurber – Part Deux!

By Brandon Rucker via Liquid Imagination

In this conclusion of my two-part conversation with author Bob Thurber, we chat more about his debut novel, Paperboy: A Dysfunctional Novel (which was released May 1st by Casperian Books), its long journey into publication, and what the future holds for the new novelist.

You can read Part One here!

RUCKER: I understand that your debut novel Paperboywas originally “completed” back in 2003 when you first began to shop it. The agent you had at the time suggested changes that would have compromised the overall story, so you stuck to your guns and went with your second and current agent. I imagine there’s a great number of first time novelists who would have folded under such pressure for fear of losing that crucial first opportunity. However, you did not. How did it feel to see the integrity you had in your writing validated?

THURBER: I don’t see it that way. After the manuscript was completed, I never felt any pressure. My first agent was a good man, a former senior editor, and a seasoned professional. He originally took me on as a client believing he could sell a collection of my stories to a major publisher. He had great admiration for my short fiction and he was anxious to have the novel in his hands. After I handed in Paperboy, he admired the writing, but not the subject matter, which he felt was too dark, too harsh. And I had no argument on that point. He knew his stuff, knew the industry, and he wanted a more marketable book, so he made a number of suggestions on how to improve the manuscript and make it more acceptable to publishers. Sound advice, really. But I wasn’t interested in dampening the theme or softening the dysfunctional nature of the book. A number of publishing houses, about a dozen editors who had considered the collection had specifically asked to see the novel when it was ready. Though they were waiting for it, he never sent it to them. He considered it a tough sell because of the controversial subject matter and the fact I was a first time author. Still an unknown. And ultimately he was correct in that assessment. My second and current agent loved the novel, and he submitted it to a good number of publishers. Some held on to it for a long time but ultimately they all passed. So I don’t feel any sense of validation in that respect. The happy news is that we eventually found a publisher willing to move forward. I do think it’s a far better novel now than what I originally turned in, so the long waits, the long process, then the rewriting and editing, all that contributed to the finished product.

RUCKER: Paperboy is inspired by and filled with several autobiographical bits of your life. Fiction is a balance of truths and lies. How difficult was it to balance fiction with reality, considering the subject matter and the stark truth of your life events?

THURBER: Though it is a work of fiction, I drew extensively on childhood memories to create scenes, settings, the feel of that time, those years, the hardships of living in poverty, all that. But the book isn’t close to being a memoir. What truth it contains goes beyond my personal experience and realizations. I was a lost child but it’s not a story about me, more about the human spirit, how lost kids survive or don’t. It’s not for the feint hearted. But it’s as genuine and authentic, and as daring as anything I’ve written.

RUCKER: Can you tell us about your decision to use two different tenses in the narrative for this book? It’s definitely effective and I think it really allows you to keep the voice consistent and transparent.

THURBER: Well, the narrator, Jack Fisher, is just a kid, a 14 year old boy, and like most kids that age he is unable to fully tell his story (just as we are all limited in our abilities to express ourselves fully, wholly, completely, whether we’re writers or not.) So at times Jack tip-toes around certain subjects, certain issues, or he digresses, spilling anecdotes from his family’s past. Throughout, he is sincerely trying to tell his story. He’s trying very hard. One reader remarked that “not since Holden Caulfield have I felt such a kinship with a boy in a book” and I take that has high praise for the genuineness of Jack’s character and the authenticity of his voice.

RUCKER: What was your writing regimen like for this novel, particularly the re-write you did for your current agent, Jack Scovil?

THURBER: No one ever asked for a rewrite. Not my agent, not the publisher. They were satisfied with the manuscript as it was. The rewrite was my decision. After Casperian accepted the book, I reviewed the manuscript. I hadn’t touched it in years. I immediately saw things I didn’t like, scenes that needed flushing out, a few gaps that needed plugging, a couple of story questions that needed to be addressed. And the pacing needed smoothing. So I went to work, revised the entire thing from beginning to end, and ended up adding about 30 thousand words. It was an exhausting process, but I had to do it. I felt, and still feel, an overwhelming sense of responsibility to the lost children the book represents.

RUCKER: I assume you will continue to produce short fiction, but do you have another novel on deck to follow up Paperboy?

THURBER: Yes. That manuscript, titled April Fish, is nearly done. I’m close to putting it in my agent’s hands, so we’ll see if a publisher embraces it. Essentially, for twenty years I concentrated on writing short fiction and a novel is a whole different animal. I’ve had to change some working habits, but in time I’ll get better. The next project after April Fish is a book I’ve been researching and making notes on for decades. I’ve never been in any rush.


Read our Exclusive Excerpt

You can sample and/or purchase Paperboy at the following links.

Casperian Books
Amazon
Barnes & Noble

 

Learn more about Bob Thurber here.

Interview: A Conversation with Bob Thurber – Part Un!

by Brandon Rucker via Liquid Imagination

Fellow author Susan Henderson calls him “a masterful wordsmith” and “a trailblazer”. I personally call him the Maestro of Microfiction. I also call him friend.

In the late 1990s I was introduced to Bob Thurber and his exceptional writing. We met where many writers had for the past dozen or so years: at the American Zoetrope Virtual Studio, the brainchild of filmmaker, fiction enthusiast and artist advocate, Francis Ford Coppola. Although I became a member in late 1998, I didn’t read and thereafter converse with Thurber until sometime in 1999. I’d like to think we hit it off smashingly. Heck, we even found ourselves on the same side in many of those early, heated literary debates that writing communities are known to have. In many ways Thurber became a willing mentor to those of us who were wise enough to listen, and many members still consider him a literary hero to this day as I do.

I know I personally became a kind of raving fanboy, always referencing his talent and citing his works as glowing examples of how flash fiction was supposed to be done. While reviewing one of his classic stories, I had said “You’re just too good at what you do. Great fortune awaits you, my friend.” Indeed.

I recently uncovered several quotes from some of the other AZVS members about Thurber and his writing from over the years. The praise included such phrases as “scary talent that inspires,” “helpful, gracious and generous,” “Thurber can’t be beat” and “there’s some consolation to losing [a contest] to Thurber”.

Then there was a time when the favorite, though somewhat reclusive, scribe decided to vanish altogether from the ranks that so revered him. First was the complete deletion of his membership. Following this was a series of cryptic messages on his personal website. Various inquiries went unanswered. Thurber, either by design or by accident, had become a bit of a legend in the underground writing community that populated the Zoetrope Virtual Studio. Some even questioned whether Thurber had prematurely passed away—perish the thought! It got so serious that a few members actually checked into his possible demise. .

I am happy to report that the truth was much more positive. Thurber was simply on a mission. He saw no need to talk about writing anymore because he was busy actually writing stories, submitting them, getting them published and winning several contests and awards (if you consider over forty to be merely ‘several’). He has also spent a great deal of his ‘away’ time working on his debut novel, Paperboy: a Dysfunctional Novel (which will be published in May 2011 by Casperian Books).

Thurber and I kept in touch irregularly over the years. Recently I was able to corner him for this interview, an invitation he graciously accepted despite his disdain for talking about himself and despite his recent unspeakable loss of his daughter. And so follows my conversation with the illustrious yet ever-so-humble Bob Thurber.

RUCKER: Bob, what I like most about your fiction is the strong undeniable voice that speaks through it, especially in your first-person narrative works. I remember that I used to read your works and forget that I was reading a work of fiction because the voice that came through was always so real, the stories seemed like non-fictive confessionals. assume that was intentional, and that your 25 years of writing before we met helped you achieve this.

THURBER: First, thank you, Brandon, for your enthusiastic support of my work all these years.

In answer to your question I guess some of my pieces read like “non-fictive confessionals” because many of them start out that way: as true confessions. I’ve never actually sat down with the intention of composing a fictionalized story, short or long. All my work originates from snips of prose recorded in my daily notebook, which is something I’ve maintained for about 35 years. The notebook is part diary, part journal, part sketch pad, part exercise workbook. It’s where I start each day and where I probably spend too much time playing with words when I should be focused on other work.

I’m never trying to create anything publishable in the notebook so I have the freedom to be frank and open, to be snide or silly or tell harsh truths. Any distortion or fictionalization comes only after I’ve identified something genuine, something authentic. At that point I’ll examine the emotional energy in that chunk of prose and try to build upon it, flush out and intensify whatever emotional component caught my eye. But in the beginning I’m never writing fiction; I’m simply making a record of scatterbrained observations, with no goal except to put words on the page, all the while attempting complete sincerity. So maybe some of that sincerity ends up clinging to the fictionalized pieces. That’s my best guess, anyway.

Rucker: For as long as I have known you, it seems you have always written and published micro and flash fiction more than traditional length short stories. Why is that particular love affair the strongest?

THURBER: It’s not a strong attachment, really, though I can understand why it might appear that way. I’ve published a lot very short pieces in venues that imposed a small word limit. And a few of those smaller pieces won an award that brought some attention. But I’ve published a good amount of long stories as well, a few pieces pushing ten thousand words. There’s a moderately long story (about 6000 words) in the next issue of The Indiana Review that I drafted about ten years ago. And I’ve got a trunk load of traditional length pieces never submitted, and long drafts that I haven’t touched in a decade or more. When I started to regularly submit my work I found it easier to pull smaller pieces from my files and edit those. So I guess all it comes down to is that the shorter pieces were easier to rework, shape up, revise. Easier to style.

RUCKER: Some people have described some of your stories as ‘downers’. How do you respond to that description of some of your work?

THURBER: I’m not sure if that’s a complaint or a compliment? Either way it’s a fairly accurate observation. There’s no question some of my pieces are dark, and a few are downright disturbing. But they deal with everyday matters. My monsters are always human. Nothing supernatural occurs. I think that if there’s a common theme or message it’s along the lines of “Count your blessings, because things could be far worse.”

I’m glad when they cause the reader to pause and maybe reflect.

Some years ago I went to a small dinner party and another writer, a talented young woman, who had read a number of my stories, confessed she was surprised to discover that I wasn’t the seriously dark and gloomy person she had expected me to be. Off the page I’m a pretty funny guy. I sometimes write humor, though I haven’t tried to publish many of those pieces.

I’m more intrigued by the darker parts of human nature, the daily traumas that leave scars, the horrific little things people do and the hurtful things they say to one another. I’ve developed a pretty good sense for recognizing cruelty in its various disguises, behind its various masks. I try to present those findings, expose some of the nuance. I recognize that hurt often breeds hurt, that people who are suffering deep emotional pain frequently pass that suffering on in ways big and small, not necessarily intentionally, but by social accident, social collision. Sometimes it is only a minor mishap, a caustic remark. A small action. But that’s an aspect of behavior that I like to examine. I’m no admirer of the dark side but I’m not afraid to study its mechanisms, its power to direct a person’s life by his or her daily actions, how that undermines and destroys relationships. It’s pretty naïve and somewhat of a cliché, but I’ll admit I’m a child of the sixties, a member of that post-hippie generation who believed, as Kurt Vonnegut did, that people who are supposed to love each other should try “a little less love, and a little more common decency.” We’re all going to fade. The least we can do is try to be kind to one another while we’re alive.

RUCKER: You have won your fair share of awards for fiction. Upwards of forty awards, including the Barry Hannah Fiction Prize. What do those awards mean to you? Is there one that means more than the others, or is it like picking a favorite limb?

THURBER: For a long time I was resistant to publishing. I never submitted anything anywhere. Even now I’m sluggish about sharing my work. But for a few years I got in the regular habit of entering contests. So that’s how the awards came about. I liked the discipline of meeting deadlines, though most of my entries were last minute. And I looked at entry fees as a way of supporting the publication while gambling on my work. I like to gamble. I’m a pretty good blackjack player, well ahead of the house, though I seldom get to the casino anymore.

Funny story: about five years ago my wife and I were having lunch at Foxwoods Casino when my cell phone rang, and it was the editor of Meridan Magazine. A very nice woman informed me that my story had won their Editor’s Prize. I was shocked and a bit disorientated. I couldn’t even remember what I had sent to them. I said, That’s great. What did I win? She said, A thousand dollars and publication in the next issue. I said, Cool. I’m in a casino. Should I go back to the tables and gamble some more?

She probably thought she had the wrong number.

Anyway, I enjoyed the irony of getting the news while in a casino, mainly because I think any literary contest is a gamble, a calculated risk, and pretty much of a long shot. I rarely enter them anymore.

RUCKER: Does outside recognition like that validate what you’ve done, or do you feel that positive confirmation has to come from within?

THURBER: I imagine every writer wants recognition for the work they do. Validation can be a morale booster, an incentive to do more work, better work. But I also think that a lot of young writers rush to be published before their work is ready. For myself, yeah, sure, I chased after validation for a short while. And the awards certainly brought a sense of that. But in my case I had a trunk full of work accumulated from over two decades. Lots of work to draw from. Prior to that my validation came from letting my wife read my work. She was my entire audience. So I had her reaction, her opinions, and her support on a number of levels. Beyond that was my own conviction, the fact that I knew I was doing the work every day without excuses, without any need for outside reward. Back then I believed that when I eventually did publish I would do so with a pseudonym. A lot of my early drafts still have that pseudonym on them, and I sometimes wonder why I didn’t stick with that plan. A nom de plume has some advantages. Don’t misunderstand. I like when my work gets recognition, but I’m uncomfortable when too much attention is directed toward me. Over the years I’ve turned down numerous interviews and invitations to “guest edit” or to judge contests, so many that I suspect others draw the impression I’m difficult or unfriendly, but it’s really just timidity, my personal awkwardness. I’ll be honest and admit I’m feeling some of that right now.

RUCKER: Who are the writers that have had the most influence on you as a writer? Who are your literary idols, if you have any?

THURBER: Tough question. Difficult to answer in so short a space. I’ve had scores of influences, direct and indirect, good and bad. Thirty years ago Henry Miller changed my life. So did William Saroyan. There’s a sincerity that flows through their work that is raw, often brutal, but very much alive on the page. Salinger and Hemingway were huge influences for a time; they’re so smooth it’s unnerving. Then there’s Kafka, Hamsun, Donald Barthelme. Dozens more. I used to read like a fiend. I preferred short story’s more than novels. I’d read the same story over and over, trying to break it down. But at the same time I was always studying a lot of psychology, sociology, religion, mysticism, so I was greatly influenced and redirected by nonfiction writers such as Rollo May, Eric Fromm, Krishnamurti, Annie Dillard. Julian Jaynes’ book on “The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind” woke me up. So did Dudley Young’s “Origins of the Sacred.” I mention those titles because they happen to be sitting on my desk. I often go back to works that impressed me. I’ve got a pretty good sized library in my home. But I’m not being fair, or giving a very good answer. I’m sorry. There are just too many authors that influenced how and what I write. It’s a pretty mixed bag.

RUCKER: Do you remember in the late 90s when flash fiction truly became en vogue, the writing community debating the merits of ultra-short fiction and its parameters? On one side of the argument were those who demanded that flash be fully realized stories and contain all the usual story elements—a beginning, middle, and resolution—only in a more condensed form, an abbreviated presentation. Others insisted that the larger story could simply be more implied than oddly forced into such a truncated form. Looking back now, how do you view those debates and did you agree or disagree with either side?

THURBER: I’ve never been a fan of the term “flash fiction” or any of the labels applied to very short fictions. I’m drawn to compressed work, stories that pack a punch in a rather short space. But there are compressed novels I like just as well. So it’s never been about length with me. Good writing utilizes compression. I like density, the weight beyond the actual words on the page. I’m in awe when I find it.

As to the debate about what components make up a capable “small fiction,” or what can or should be left out, I think it’s an impracticable argument, rather subjective from a reader’s view, equally so from a writer’s scrutiny. Every work dictates its own requirements, its own necessary parts. Certainly some impression must be made, some fixed, unified emotional effect upon the reader. The more solid the better, but even a vague impression, a sense of underlying emotion will get the job done. So allusion and implication are important no matter what the length. I guess my view is that if you understand fiction’s basic principles and ideals (which are often misconstrued as strict, rigid rules ) then you’re no longer restricted by them. Better to recognize the rules as guidelines, study them, practice them, understand them, but never let them deter you from creating something fresh, something new, exciting and unique.

RUCKER: Susan Henderson said in an interview a few years back that she believed you were instrumental in getting the Flash Fiction wing opened up at the Zoetrope Virtual Studio. I was certainly around then, but somewhere in between then and now I took a nap. So tell me, my friend: is that myth or truth?

THURBER: That was a long time ago. I was a strong advocate for the creation of a separate wing for Flash Fiction but many members were onboard that campaign. So I can’t make any claim to being instrumental in the process. It’s flattering to be considered some part of it though. Susan Henderson, by the way, is a hell of a writer and one of the nicest people I’ve come in contact with. She’s got a debut novel people should pay attention to. I wish her continued success.

RUCKER: We are featuring three of your microfiction works in our current issue, the two classics in “My New Place” and “Grave Invitation”, and the previously unpublished “Rooms for Rent, Men Only”. What can you tell us about the origin of those works?

THURBER: Not very much. All of those pieces originated in my daily notebook and were based on actual experiences before they became distorted, shaped into the things that they are now. I’m glad that you found some merit in them. And I think you and Sue did a terrific job enhancing “Grave Invitation,” turning it into a multi-media piece. Very nice. Thank you for that.

RUCKER: It’s been a long time coming. Just how anxious are you to finally have your first novel released to an unsuspecting public this year? I know I am anxious for you!

THURBER: I feel really fortunate to have found a publisher willing to take a chance on Paperboy, though I sometimes think I’m not as happy or as thrilled as I should be. It’s certainly no easy chore to get a book published, particularly a highly dysfunctional novel such as this one, which deals with themes and issues not often talked about. So I consider that part of it an honor. A true gift. It was really such an odd, eerie feeling the first time I held the actual book in my hands. It’s got weight, more than I imagined. I’m confident that some readers will find merit in it. There’s already been a bit of buzz about the release, a lot of emails congratulating me, some requests for signed copies, so my mailing list has increased substantially. Oddly, I’m not anxious about the release. At least I haven’t been. Maybe that will change as the date gets closer. Right now I’m focused on other projects. I’m close to handing off another completed novel to my agent. So that’s really where my focus is, on the work still in front of me. Paperboy, anything I’ve published, all of that has to fend for itself.

This concludes the first part of my conversation with Thurber. Be sure to return on May 31st for Part 2 in the upcoming ninth issue of Liquid Imagination as we turn the focus to writing craft and Thurber’s debut novel, Paperboy: a Dysfunctional Novel

Read the first seven pages of Paperboy at Casperian Books

Pre-order PAPERBOY from Barnes and Noble

Learn more about Bob Thurber

And be sure to read Bob Thurber’s microflashes featured in Issue 8 of LI Online:

Room for Rent: Men Only

My New Place

Grave Invitation