Interview with Michael Livingston

Michael LivingstonMichael Livingston’s short story, Gnome Season, appears in the Summer 2006 issue of Shimmer. Check out his website.

Questions About the Story

Where did the idea come from?
I was sitting in the library one day and noticed a copy of Zoetrope All-Story on a table. I opened it up to a story by Stacey Richter called “The Cavemen in the Hedges.” I didn’t really have time to read the whole thing, but I did see the first two sentences: “There are cavemen in the hedges again. I take the pellet gun from the rack beside the door and go out back and try to run them off. These cavemen are tough sons of bitches who are impervious to pain, but they love anything shiny, so I load the gun up with golden Mardi Gras beads my girlfriend, Kim, keeps in a bowl on the dresser and aim toward their ankles.” The images in those two sentences made me really happy. When mixed with my deep-seated mistrust of garden gnomes and their garden-watching unions, I had the seeds of a story.

How did the story change as you developed it?
Originally the father did not come home and witness the assault; the introduction of that extra dimension of conflict was a spot-on editorial suggestion that allowed me to make the question of reality vs. fantasy in the story even more muddled than it was before.

You know the advice “Sometimes you have to kill your darlings.” Was there a scene or line that it really hurt to cut, but cutting it made the story stronger?
I didn’t kill any darlings, though there was much discussion about throttling the word “flitgun” since many readers had no idea what it meant. Rather than send it the way of the dodo, however, I ended up adding a sentence or two from Gramps that makes clear what a horrible reference he’s making.

How is this story like your other work? How is it different?
I’ve no idea what my work is like, I’m afraid. So I can only say that I’ve never written a story about gnomes before.

Questions About Writing

Who do you write for? Yourself or someone else?
I write to stay sane, to get some of the gunk out of my head that keeps floating around in there. I think I can explain the art of it best in an analogy: creative writing is like opening the spit-valve on the trombone of your mind and then blowing really hard.

What writing projects are you presently working on?
In fiction: a rather large novella that an editor has asked to see, a couple more short stories, and then a multi-book series about angels and demons. In non-fiction: a number of projects short and long.

What time of day do you prefer to do your writing?
Night, mostly, but pretty much whenever I get the chance.

Favorite book read when you were a child?
The Monster at the End of this Book — starring Grover, no less.

Random Questions

If you could trade places with anyone, who would it be? And Why?
That’s easy: whoever is “with” Aishwarya Rai, so that I could, um, get to know her a little bit better, so to speak.

Watch much TV? If so, what shows do you watch? Which shows are guilty pleasures?
Don’t watch much, I’m afraid, since the present state of television sucks. As proof, I submit that two of the finest TV shows in recent years were both canceled before completing a single season: Keen Eddie and Firefly.

Favorite restaurant?
Der Wilder Mann in the Getreidegasse in Salzburg, Austria. If you go, order a huge flagon of the local Stiegl beer, which has been going strong since 1492.

Cat or dog person? (or something else, like birds, iguanas, or even evil robot monkeys?)
Dog — especially if it’s a half-Border Collie half-Australian Shepherd named Sydney the Wondermutt.

If you had a working time machine what advice would you give a younger self?
“Just ask her, you nimrod. The worst case scenario is she says no; the best case scenario is — well, let’s just say I’ve been pondering that for all these many years.”

Quiz: How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb? Please explain your answer:
None. A real writer works in the dark.

Speculative fiction for a miscreant world

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