The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes Interview with David S. Atkinson—Yes, the very same David S. Atkinson who shares the blog with me.

Today, Dave and I have decided to go outside of our normal paradigm of reviewing a book from the Top Ten. Dave recently had his second book come out, The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes, you can find it here. His first book is titled Bones Buried in Dirt and you can read what I thought of it here.

So, in honor of it being published, and to give everyone something just a little different than our normal blog entry, I asked Dave 16 questions about Village Inns, his books, his reading habits, and his past. Enjoy!

 

1. For the benefit of our readers who don’t live in an area with them, can you explain what a Village Inn is?

Certainly. It was only when I started shopping the novel around that I realized Village Inns aren’t as ubiquitous as they’d seemed to me. A New York publisher had no idea what it was, which makes sense since it turned out that there were no Village Inns in the entire state. They’re all over everywhere I’ve lived, and much of the US (though not as many as there used to be), but they’re not everywhere. Basically, it’s one of the various types of pancake houses (IHOP, Denny’s, Perkins, Waffle House, and so on). It used to be just that, but they branched out into more lunch and dinner stuff at some point…though for me it’s still about the pancakes. Not all are open 24 hours, but some are. Many people stop there after a late night of drinking and such.

2. Why _did_ you pick a Village Inn? Why not Denny’s?

Some of it is the fact that I go to Village Inns more than any other pancake house. My favorites have changed over time, and which ones are better than others for various reasons change over time, but I go to Village Inn at least once a week these days. Part of that is proximity to my house, but part of it is the garden veggie omelet combo they have. I can get it with multigrain pancakes, sugar free syrup, and still have an egg and pancake breakfast for about 550 calories. Also, I worked in one for three weeks back in 1994. I’ve just always had a certain kinship with Village Inn.

3. One of your characters shares that she dreams of doing a road trip across the United States and writing dirty limericks on bathroom walls. What limerick would you write?
Probably the one that Kate uses. It isn’t the only one I ever remember, but it’s one I’ve never forgotten despite it being pretty lame.

4. What was your favorite part of the story to write? Why?

My favorite parts were always Cassandra’s stories. Not that she isn’t always telling stories in one way or another, but the stories where she says she’s telling stories. I love those in particular because she’s at the same time being both more and less honest. Plus, they were more free, more fun.

5. The main character, Cassandra, makes up a lot of stories about people, creating elaborate back stories about them, about her dog Daedalus being a live totem created by a race called wind elves, about their waitress unable to actually physically touch someone, about a manager with an irrational fear of Village Inn. Do you think you share this trait with Cassandra? Do you think that it’s something a lot of writers live within their brain?

I don’t get quite as fanciful as Cassandra tends to get, at least I don’t think I do, but I think we all do this from time to time. I think most of us don’t carry it through with this kind of energy or drive. Most of the time I’ll think up a few odd thoughts about somebody, but then I’ll wander off mentally. Cassandra doesn’t let go until she’s done, regardless of what she’s actually talking about.

6. You mentioned to me before that you wrote the first draft of this in a ridiculously short time. What was the germ of the idea that started it all? Do you always go past a VI? Were you in a VI at that time?

This all started with Joseph Michael Owens (author of Shenanigans!) recommending Donald Antrim’s The Verificationist to me. I tend to read anything Joe recommends, so I’d only glanced at the description for the book. I’d gotten a really weird and wrong idea what it was going to be about. As I was reading The Verificationist, I told Joe how much I was loving it but also about this book I thought it was going to be. He paused and replied: “You should write that.” It just clicked right then and the first draft was done in two weeks. Revision from there took much longer.

7. How much time did you spend in your teens and early 20s in all night or late night breakfast places? Who was the strangest person that you ever saw in one?

I spent quite a bit of time in places like that. Not that I still don’t, of course. I’ve been going to places like that as long as I can remember, though obviously usually earlier in the day when I was younger. As for strangest, it’s hard to say. I had a waitress at a Denny’s one time who seemed to be on something pretty major. Her pupils were really, really dilated and she talked extremely slow. I’m thinking some kind of downers. I ordered eggs benedict and she brought fried eggs. For some reason, she just could not get why this was a problem. I said I ordered eggs benedict. She said yes. I said this was fried eggs. She said yes. I said that fried eggs were not eggs benedict. She said yes. I can’t even remember how this got resolved. Maybe I just ate the fried eggs.

8. One of the things I thought while reading the book is that the characters were stuck in VI due to unresolved issues they had between them. Is that something you meant to come across? Or, was that something that I, as a reader brought to the reading experience and the reader’s conversation with the author?

That’s not an easily answerable question. Are they even stuck? Is whether or not they are stuck even a purely binary issue? If they are stuck, is the unresolved issues what is keeping them there or is it their responses to the unresolved issues? This becomes complex pretty quick. Bottom line: Ain’t tellin’. 🙂

9. You also told me that you write your stories on legal pads, handwritten, as first drafts. Why do you do it this way? Have you ever tried doing it on a computer for first draft?

Most things I write longhand first, most of the time on legal pads. There are some things I type on computer first, but that’s more rare. I’m not sure where this came from completely, other than that I didn’t have a computer (or a reliable computer or computer I could rely on to be permanent as any of my old files on Amiga floppies can attest) when I started writing. Computers always seemed like typewriters to me, a second step kind of device. I like to feel the paper as I’m writing and I don’t get that with a computer. Plus, longhand gives me an initial chance to revise when typing it up. Less distractions during as well.

10. The people that follow you on Goodreads know that you read extremely fast and often read over 250 books a year. What are 3 that you’ve read in the last 3 months that you’d recommend to people?

There’s a ton in the last three months that I’ve read and think other people should read. Since I’m limited to three I’ll just pick three of those at random:
An Untamed State by Roxane Gay
The Meaning of Names by Karen Shoemaker
Atmospheres by Jon Konrath

11. If someone read The Garden of Good and Evil Pancakes and loved it (which I did), what other independent press books would you recommend?

Like the above, there’s a ton of good stuff out there on the indie scene. I’ll just list a few I’ve loved at random (find a few good ones and they’ll always lead you to more):
Orphans by Ben Tanzer
The Desert Places by Amber Sparks, Robert Kloss, and Matt Kish
The Sea-God’s Herb by John Domini
Black Cloud by Juliet Escoria
Don’t Start Me Talkin’ by Tom Williams

12. What’s your favorite thing on the Village Inn menu?

Most often I get the veggie omelet, but I can’t deny my fondness for the Ultimate Skillet. The Ultimate Breakfast is good too, as are the Eggs Benedict and many other breakfasts.

13. Do you think that Cassandra uses her made up stories to process things from her own life? I wondered this due to her saying a couple of times, “Let’s not get into what I was really talking about”.

This is another question where a binary answer may not be possible. Does she? Are there different levels if so? Is she actually processing or just examining? Again…not tellin’. 🙂

14. The two other people Cassandra’s stuck with in VI are Thomas and Kate. Out of all the characters, which one would you want to be stuck with in a Village Inn? Why?

The waitress. She has the ability to bring food. If you mean out of these three, I’d probably pick Cassandra. I think hanging out with her would be the most interesting time.

15. Given the amount you read, what would you do if you were stuck in a Village Inn with no books?

Write. Perhaps eat, there’s always eating. Coffee too.

16. Your previous book dealt with a boy growing from 5 to 12, with different short stories about him all linked together. This book is quite different both with its characters and also with narrative style. What do you think, other than you wrote both of them, is something the two books share?

As much as I try to not to do the same thing over again, I go with the writing impulses that come to me. As such, I think things change quite a bit from one project to the next…all fitted to the particular project. Still, I think there are language patterns and techniques that I frequently use and don’t even necessarily know I’m using. That sort of thing is probably in both. Also, I do tend to stick to a certain flow. As different as the forms are, the flow seems similar to me. Both are at least coherent in flow on at least the surface, not exactly experimental. Well, to me they are. We’ll see what other people think.

 

The End! We hope you’ve enjoyed this momentary glimpse into the brain of David S. Atkinson!

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Les Miserables is Long Long Long. Today I will talk about Bones Buried in Dirt.

So.  Like Dave told you last week, I was working my way through Les Miserables.  He kindly went two weeks in a row so that I could finish.  And I’ve been trying.  Really.  And I might have been able to do it, but after 200-250 pages a day, you really can’t read more.  So.  I am getting close to the end and should be exploring it with you guys TOMORROW, February 8th, 2013.  So tune back in tomorrow for my talk about Les Miserables (where I will discuss its length but also discuss the beauty of it, trust me, it will be a scintillating discussion.).

Today, I decided to talk about something else.  While Dave has mentioned this on his own personal blog , he has yet to discuss it on here.  Dave had his first book published!  He’s been rocking short story publications for awhile now.  He had quite a few of those short stories that went together, all told by the same narrator.  Together they form a novel.   It’s titled Bones Buried in Dirt, and if you press that link it’ll take you to the amazon page for it.  It has a 5 star rating.

Dave gave me the opportunity of reading it directly prior to publication.  I loved it!  If you remember, in a prior entry about A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Dave talks about children narrators.  At some point in the course of our blog, one of us will be rereading To Kill a Mockingbird, probably one of the most famous examples of child narrators.  My point, before I digressed, is that Dave’s book has a child narrator.  His name is Peter and the stories that make up the book start around age 4 and follow him to age 12.  The time frame for the story is mid 80s to 90s (from what I can tell from Dave’s cultural references in it).  The setting is Omaha, NE.

The following is a list of why I think Dave’s book deserves accolades and its 5 star rating on Amazon:

1)  I sometimes forgot that the _author_ of the book was an adult, he wrote the child narration so well.  (And this is even with knowing the author!)

2)  Dave captured, through Peter, a lot of events that echoed in my own life, and probably in yours as well.   Dave covers the literalism of a preschooler, and the hurt that can sometimes happen due to that literalism.  He covers the time frame of sexual experimentation during elementary school years (and it’s not the fuzzy kiss the pillow stuff you normally read in literature about childhood).  He explores how it feels to lie to an authority and a friend after a betrayal.  First love.  Living with a parent with some obvious mental illness issues, who as an adult, you can see is trying his best, and to Peter is normal.  The burgeoning relationship with a father.

3)  He does all of this in an unflinching, raw, sometimes painful to look at way.   People glamorize and romanticize childhood way more than we should.  Childhood is painful.  It’s raw and it hurts.  A reviewer on Amazon said this about Bones Buried in Dirt “It rips away the fuzzy, pink insulation that is normally wrapped around memories
of childhood, leaving behind jagged edges that cut and wound” .  And his book does.  That’s what sets it apart from the other books out there.

4)  He details Peter’s growth as an individual from preschooler to preteen amazingly well.  We see Peter’s mindsets, thought processes and compassion levels change and develop throughout.

5)  He uses the locale of Peter’s neighborhood in such a way that it almost becomes another full character in the book.

 

There are a lot of other reasons, but those are my main ones.  I do definitely believe I will reread Dave’s book at some point, just because some of it was so raw that it was hard to process a first time.  Raw, emotionally, not writing wise.

Go the following places if you’re interested in knowing more:

Dave’s blog–where he talks about the publication and ongoing information on the book.

Amazon, where you can both purchase the book and read reviews on it.

Tattered Cover, an amazing independent bookstore in Denver Colorado.  If you are ever in the Denver area, run, run, drive like it’s the Indy 500 to Tattered Cover.  I only went there once, in the mid 90s and I still think of it in the way a dieter thinks of hot caramel sundaes or an ex smoker thinks of a cigarette.  You can either go physically to the store to buy a copy of Dave’s book, or you can order it online.  For those of you that would like to support an independent bookseller versus a giant like Amazon, this is the option for you.

Goodreads, where you can’t purchase it but can read the reviews on it to make your final purchasing decision, or if you have a Goodreads account, could add it to your to be read pile as a reminder to pick it up once you’re ready to purchase.  (By the way, Bones Buried in Dirt has a 4.92 rating on Goodreads as well).

And finally, Facebook, where you can like the page for Bones Buried in Dirt and maybe beg Dave to sign your copy somehow 😀

 

I urge all of you to read it.  It’s an amazing book, and phenomenally well done.