Interview 2 with Stephen L. Moss

Stephen L. Moss’s short story, Tom Cofferwillow Comes Undone, appears in the Winter 2007 issue of Shimmer. Stephen can be reached by email here.

Questions about the story:

Where did the idea come from?
The opening paragraph just popped out of my head during a writing session. I became intrigued by the idea of seeing how many made up words I could use without losing the thread of the narrative.

How did the story change as you developed it?
This one wrote itself, more or less. I just tried to take deep breaths and keep the vertigo at bay while my hands moved across the keyboard. The characters seemed to know what they wanted to say. The experience was exhilarating, if a little like trying to drive with no brakes.

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?
There were a few words I thought I invented that turned to be real, if archaic, English words. Changing them was more of an annoyance than an episode of “darling killing.”

How is this story like your other work? How is it different?
This one is different from anything else I’ve done, though I suspect it is the start of a trend. I’ve always loved playing with language. When I was a kid I pretended my family spoke Latin at home. My “Latin,” however, consisted entirely of made-up words. I had a kid from my school completely bamboozled. He went around asking me the Latin word for everything until I became too exhausted to keep it up anymore and told him it was all bull.

Questions About Writing:

What writing projects are you presently working on?
I’ve got a complaint letter in the works to United Airlines. It wasn’t so much the fact that my luggage was late as their unapologetic attitude about the mistake. That and the fact that you cannot reach a human if you call their baggage information line. I hate that.

What authors, if any, have had the most influence on your work?
The obvious ones, like Lewis Carroll and Anthony Burgess, all apply here. I think Jabberwocky is totally horrorshow.

Favorite short story you’ve read recently?
An Episode of Stardust, by Michael Swanwick. It recently appeared in Asimov’s, part of a series set in a really cool world that has both elves and dwarves AND everyday modern technology.

What people have helped you the most with your writing?
Mr. Gibbons, sophomore English teacher. Dr. Tony Grosch, junior and senior year English teacher. My wife and first reader, Jennifer Moss, and Lawrence Ferlingetti, who doesn’t know me but I know him.

What time of day do you prefer to do your writing?
before dawn. All of the ideas are free then. No waiting.

Random Questions:

What is your darkest secret?
I put the “bop” in the bop shu bop shu bop.

If you could trade places with anyone, who would it be? And why?
I want to be Han Solo, don’t you?

Tell us about one place in your hometown that you love to visit and would recommend to others.
Milwaukee has the coolest art museum on this planet. It was designed by Calatrava and is shaped like a bird, complete with wings that flap open and closed several times a day. It looks out over Lake Michigan. Very cool.

What was the last CD you bought? The last song you downloaded?
I just bought a CD of solo harp works by Elizabeth Hainen. Occupational hazard.

If you could hop on a plane tomorrow and go anywhere, where would you go and why?
I’d hop a spaceship to We Made It and have a drink or two with Beowulf Schaffer.

Cat or dog person? (or birds, iguanas, or ??)
I’m more of the bandersnatch type, myself (sorry, couldn’t resist!)

Quiz: How many writers does it take to change a lightbulb? Please explain your answer:
Five. One to change it, one to convert the experience into a work of fiction, and three to form a workshop and criticize the writer’s use of the word “exalt.”

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