This article originally appeared on the Go Local Prov website.
Up Close with Author Daniel Pearlman
by Anthony Faccenda, GoLocalProv Contributor
Simply labeling Daniel Pearlman a “fantasy writer” would be doing this multi-talented author a great disservice. Pearlman’s unique brand of fantasy fiction often includes elements of irony, satire, magic realism and speculative fiction. Aside from fiction, Pearlman, a professor emeritus of English at the University of Rhode Island, has also written everything from literary criticism to student writing handbooks.Despite his demanding schedule, GoLocal got Pearlman put down his prolific pen to discuss his latest effort, A Giant in the House & Other Excesses, published by The Merry Blacksmith Press(Warwick).
Your new book A Giant in the House & Other Excesses contains twelve different short stories and novelettes. Can you briefly describe what readers can expect to find in this collection?
The word “excesses” implies the over-the-top nature of my stories, and not only in this collection, which is my third. Here is a thumbnail of each of the twelve stories:
A Giant in the House: A boy grows up with a violent father who progressively shrinks in the young man’s imagination—or is it only in his imagination?
The Death Club: A secret Death Club guarantees its members wealth and power—until reaching age eighty, after which they will be euthanized in some unpredictable way, leaving all their worldly goods to the Club. Rich old Anton Malevitch, however, on the verge of eighty, has won the love of a beautiful and much younger woman, and is determined not to honor his contract.
Hannibal’s Victory: Two women who live together, one old and one young, take out their growing mutual hostility indirectly, through the medium of their respective opinionated cats.
Facedowns: A group of friends tell each other stories during Friday night poker games at which each takes turns with the host’s obliging wife.
The Fetal Position: A young man receives warnings from a mysterious female voice that professes concerns for his safety but is bent on crushing his identity.
Lyonel Unbound: An English professor on his way to class, where his teaching is to be evaluated to determine whether he is worthy of tenure, suddenly finds himself unable to hold up his pants.
Two-Time Losers: A young night-school teacher is assigned a class of failures, a collection of the worst students in the program, whom he is under administrative pressure to pass.
Double Occupancy: An aging couple find their home invaded nightly by alluring refugees from the sixties who themselves have never aged.
With Arms Outstretched: A man demands sexual freedom from his grossly overweight wife. She, fearing to lose him, complies in an astounding manner.
Refrigerator Blindness: Not long married, the egocentric young husband cannot seem to find the most ordinary things around the house. His exasperated wife eventually contrives to use his “disability” to her own personal advantage.
Mariah My Soul-Mate: A teenage girl forms a self-destructive relationship with a beautiful, fashionably dressed manikin.
Great White Hope: In the early sixties a recently married young man, on vacation with his wife in Mexico, finds himself in sexual rivalry with a septuagenarian ex-boxer, a still-powerful Frank Moran, one of a string of “great white hopes” who once challenged Jack Johnson for the world heavyweight title.
This last story has an autobiographical basis, since I did meet Frank Moran in Mexico, and the first part of the story is almost a literal transcription of our conversation, as noted in my diary.
Several of the stories in A Giant in the House & Other Excesses have never been available to the public, including “Lyonel Unbound,” which was drafted decades ago. How important was it for you to finally release stories such as these?
Ten of the twelve stories have seen previous journal publication–over the course of the past dozen years. “Lyonel Unbound,” published in Spectrum in 2010, is the only “trunk” story I’ve rescued from the really distant past because I could never forget its basic narrative punch. But the setting needed updating to make it contemporary.
Prior to embarking on a career in writing fiction, you wrote a literary critique of poet Ezra Pound’s writings. Did you ever think of exclusively writing literary criticisms or similar works of non-fiction?
Literary criticism, though I’ve found it enjoyable, was only a diversion necessary to establish an academic career that has paid all the bills. I’ve always written fiction, my first love, and it’s always been for love, because the money it’s earned me has been negligible. As a matter of fact, the only book that has garnered respectable bucks for me over many years through eight editions is my still-in-print college writing handbook, Guide to Rapid Revision.
Do Pound’s themes or stylistic approaches ever find their way into your works of fiction?
Allusions to his work and certain of his themes do enter, in an ironical fashion, into some of my stories–especially in my first novel, Black Flames (White Pine Press, 1997).
Compared to writing a novel, short story authors run the inevitable risk of having limited time to develop character or setting. How do you confront these challenges or are they challenges to be embraced?
They are challenges to be embraced. In a short story or novella a few telling details are enough to establish, for the reader, a living, recognizable, believable, already fully-formed “character.” A novel provides the opportunity to show how that character is formed.
Aside from short stories, you have also written novels. Do you prefer writing one to the other?
If I devoted myself more to the novel, I’d be far more productive in terms of sheer word count and of daily or weekly output. If I’m lucky, I put in a few months planning a novel, and then for the next year, more or less, I’ve got a steady writing schedule to keep me productive. But if I devote myself to shorter fictions, as I’ve done for many years, I usually have to spend a couple of months dreaming up a worthy idea and fleshing it out before I can sit down and write. The writing itself goes reasonably fast, gets done in a couple of weeks, but my overall yearly productivity suffers.
Why, then, don’t I focus on writing novels rather than stories? I’ve had bad luck in the marketplace for two major novels still sitting in my drawer. As tough as it is even to get good shorter work published–in journals and anthologies–I’ve had much better luck with those shorter pieces. Literary journals are far more open to new and unusual writers than are the major book publishers, who are less and less inclined to take risks. When I completely run out of hope of ever seeing my novels accepted by a “big” publisher, I’ll go the small-press route. I still dream of getting a decent literary agent (I’ve had several lousy ones) whose initial enthusiasm for my work translates into a long-term marketing commitment. I’ve found that if an agent hasn’t sold you in six months your book gets shunted to the back burner, and the agent won’t be honest enough to tell you so. Nowadays finding a good agent is as hard as finding a good publisher.
For you, what better qualifies some stories as short story candidates and others for novels?
Usually, the idea for a story comes to me along with an intuitive sense of its probable length. Once, though, I was happily mistaken. The novel Black Flames started out as an idea for a longish short story but soon demanded expansion because the extraordinary combat experiences of my protagonist, a veteran of the Spanish Civil War, demanded inclusion. The novel is loosely based on the life of a strange but real person I knew.
Are you ever tempted to transform one of your short stories into a novel?
No. Unfortunately, too many writers–as seen in the science-fiction field, for instance–pad out a short-story idea with enough fluff to balloon it into a novel–because novels are what make the real money.
Lastly, what are you currently working on?
I have just finished a “novel-in-stories,” the adventures of an inter-dimensional detective named Merkouros, stationed in our New York to catch criminal trespassers from his own parallel New York. The series of a dozen science-fiction stories (I always confine myself to a dozen, for some reason) plays with cultural contrasts between our own relatively laid-back social order and a parallel America run by a harshly conservative autocracy. My detective often finds himself torn between these differing value systems. Several of these stand-alone stories have already appeared in print, and in addition there exists a separately published paperback Merkouros novella called Brain and Breakfast (Sam’s Dot Publishing, 2011). The series legitimately constitutes a novel because the main characters develop throughout, as do the forces endangering their world. Ever since reading Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, I’ve been fascinated by the idea of a novel-in-stories, and I didn’t know I was writing one till I got about halfway through my series.
Pearlman will read from A Giant in the House & Other Excesses at the Rochambeau branch of the Providence Public Library Jan. 23 at 7 p.m. The library is located at 708 Hope St., Providence. The reading is free and open to the public.