How long have you been writing?
“I remember what was maybe the first story I ever wrote. I was making the 125-mile trip home from Tucson, Arizona late at night. Since there was not enough room in the cab of the truck for everyone, the dog and I rode in the back. It was very cold. Huddled under a tarp with the dog licking my face, I imagined a story about the fetus in the womb of the woman in the warm cab of the truck (not my mother) sending spooky messages to man driving the truck (not my father) and the smug teenager in the middle who was not my sister. The girl kept saying, “eek!” The fetus could project glowing red eyes into the rear view mirror, and when the man jerked around to look, there was no one there!
I wrote stories in high school. I didn’t realize you were supposed to try and publish them. Since I lived 40 miles from the nearest town, I never bumped into anyone who might have tipped me off about that. I did a novel in pencil back then, too. We didn’t have TV until I was eleven and even then it was a weak black and white signal from far away. I’m so hooked into the Internet these days that it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like. The world must have been both much smaller and much bigger. Every little thing from the outside must have been very important. So much time to daydream. Going off to the big city for college was an eye opener. I’ve been writing ever since with time out for family, tragedy, laziness, false starts, and dumb mistakes. Finding the writing community here in Eugene was very important to me. I think most writers need a community.
There does seem to be a high concentration of writers in Eugene…
Yes, there are so many wonderful writers in this town. There’s Nina Kiriki Hoffman (Past The Size of Dreaming) and Leslie What (The Sweet and Sour Tongue), Bruce Holland Rogers (Flaming Arrows) and Jerry Oltion (Abandon in Place), David Bischoff (Philip K. Dick High) and Alan Clark (Imagination Fully Dilated), and many others. There is probably a workshop going on every night of the week in Eugene. My own group meets on Tuesdays in a bookstore called Tsunami Books. I also attend a monthly workshop with Damon Knight (Humpty Dumpty) and Kate Wilhelm (The Deepest Water). I feel wonderfully nurtured in this place.
What is it about the short story form that attracts you?
Do you remember that old TV show “Name That Tune”? I’m not sure I remember the show itself, just the idea. There is something elegant and elemental about telling a story in the smallest number of words possible. I don’t mean minimalism. I mean no wasted words. It might take several volumes to tell some stories. Some of my favorite short stories are in the international volume of Sudden Fiction. My favorite Borges is in that book and my favorite Yourgrau. I discovered Clarice Lispector there. The first story in the book is the very wonderful “Falling Girl” by Dino Buzzati. More generally, there’s Barthelme, Bisson, and Lafferty. I like Aimee Bender, Paul Di Filippo, Carol Emshwiller, Nina Kiriki Hoffman, Ken Kalfus, Bruce Holland Rogers, George Saunders, and Leslie What. I’m reading Kelly Link’s new book (Stranger Things Happen) now. She is so amazing.
Your writing skips between seamlessly between genres (such as fiction, surrealism, fantasy, mystery, and others) in the manner of George Saunders or Kurt Vonnegut. Before writing a story do you any idea where it’s going?
For me the writing process is like Tourette’s syndrome. In fact, it may even be Tourette’s syndrome. Hey, I wonder if that’s one of the things Jonathan Lethem is saying in Motherless Brooklyn? I should go back and read it again with that angle in mind. Anyway, there is a linguistic deluge going on in my head all the time — “a mile a minute” as my grandmother used to say. Jabber jabber jabber, and when I write, I reach in and scoop some out and see what it looks like (or sounds like — maybe “scoop” was the wrong piece to grab in this case). I might know in very general terms where I’m going, but even if I’ve outlined (which I generally do when thinking in longer lengths) the outline probably just influences what floats by. I seldom think in terms of genre.
When do you write?
I try to get in a couple of hours in the morning before I go to my day job. Sometimes I don’t succeed. I try to make up lost time on weekends. Sometimes I don’t succeed in that either.
Name three good books.
Here are three strange and wonderful books.
The Mustache by Emmanuel Carrere
The Unconsoledby Kazuo Ishiguro
Humpty Dumpty by Damon Knight
They are very different books, but they’re grouped together in my mind. Someone should do a dissertation, a compare and contrast and come up with conclusions kind of thing. Not me.
Who are your favorite writers?
Today I’m thinking J. G. Ballard (my favorite Ballard is a weird little book called Concrete Island), Jonathan Carroll, Philip K. Dick, Umberto Eco, R. A. Lafferty, Jonathan Lethem, Patrick McGrath, Christopher Priest, Philip Pullman, and Kurt Vonnegut. Ask me tomorrow and you might get a different list.
Your novel, The Man of Maybe Half-A-Dozen Faces, was published by St. Martin’s last year. Are you writing more novels?
I am working on a couple of other projects. I don’t know which will be done first. I can never talk about unfinished work.
Ray Vukcevich was born in Carlsbad, New Mexico, and grew up in the Southwest. He now lives in Eugene and works as a computer programmer in a couple of brain labs at the University of Oregon. His short fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies, including Asimov’s, Twists of the Tale, The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Rosebud, and Pulphouse.His first novel, The Man of Maybe Half-A-Dozen Faces, was published in 2000 by St. Martin’s Press.