Exclusive Authorlink Interview with Bruce Machart,
By Diane Slocum
In his short story collection, Bruce Machart tells the stories of ten men who go through life-changing events or moments of insight, all of which affect who they are as men. Whether it is the death of a child, the fall from a ladder into an oil rig tank or the loss of a woman, each man has to deal with it in his own way.
I began the novel (The Wake of Forgiveness) by thinking it was a much shorter project. . . |
AUTHORLINK: We get to know so much about these men in only about 10 or 20 pages, it hardly seems a novel would reveal more. Youve written both. How do you decide whether a story should be told in a few pages or a few hundred?
MACHART: Thats kind of you to say. It sounds a little fruity, but I just have to listen to the story. I began the novel (The Wake of Forgiveness) by thinking it was a much shorter project, maybe something wildly lucrative like a novella. But the more I got to know Karel, the more questions I had about him. I kept going back in time, back in his life, until I found myself writing the moment of his birth, and then I understood a great deal about why he behaved the way he did. Writing a story, for me, is much like reading one: Its a process that leads, hopefully, toward a kind of empathic ability that you didnt have beforehand.
AUTHORLINK: Your stories are continuously switching from one time frame to another, in the characters minds – with good reason, considering what has happened in their lives. How do you make this technique work?
I have more absolute beliefs about the way fiction works than Ive ever had about the way life works. . . |
MACHART: As it turns out, I have more absolute beliefs about the way fiction works than Ive ever had about the way life works, but it seems to me that two emerging beliefs inform the way I approach storytelling: First, we are forever in two places at oncethe environment in which we stand at any given moment, and the place we are from. Secondly, we are likewise forever in two temporal locations at once. We are in the now, and we are in the past. How we have found our way from here to now, and what weve suffered and gained along the way, are instrumental to whom weve become. Perhaps that explains why I so often find myself writing stories about men haunted by some day that is different in the past, some pivotal day, some day with which each and every today must resonate.
AUTHORLINK: While youre blending the mens present with their past, much of the time youre also intertwining their work and their relationships. Is this an important combination?
MACHART: I suppose it is, though I dont do it consciously. I come from a working class family, and I have had a job of some sort ever since I was fourteen years old. Well, actually, I was laid off once, jobless for three months, and that was about as close as Ive ever come to depression. In a culture that still teaches men to protect and provide, its emasculating and belittling and humbling to be without work. In much the same way, we define ourselves by our relationships. Are you married? we ask. Are you seeing anyone?…Do you have kids? Work and relationships are the associations that become most inextricably twined with our identities. It seems natural that this finds its way into my stories.
AUTHORLINK: Most of your stories include at least one death and often strained relationships. How does this relate to the common thread in your stories – men in the making?
MACHART: Boys are often taught to become the kinds of men that are no longer either plausible or necessary. And the ability to protect ones family is just as surely wrapped up in traditional gender role models. Mother nurtures. Father protects. But what happens to men when they are told they should perform these functions and then find that they cannot? Well then we have conflict. And conflict is the big, fleshy, bruised heart of storytelling.
AUTHORLINK: Your stories have been published in a number of respected periodicals. How did that help you get to where you are now, with your own published collection?
MACHART: I was fortunate. I published my first story while still in graduate school. I had an agent long before I gave her any book-length project to sell. I started writing seriously in the mid-1990s, and its true that I didnt publish my first book until 2010, but nobody wants to hear my road to publication story. It would just frustrate people. I had it easy at nearly every turn. The only struggle that I ever faced was convincing a lazy and easily distracted writer to keep his butt in the chair and put some words on the page on a regular basis.
AUTHORLINK: What do you hope people gain from reading these stories?
MACHART: In my most arrogant dreams, I imagine that readers will empathize with the characters. Even if the characters are hard or stubborn or sinful or profane or vulnerable or wounded or otherwise fundamentally different from the reader him- or herself. Thats what stories are for. They entertain in a way that opens the entertained up to the possibility of the epiphany that is unexpected empathy.
It feels a whole hell of a lot more like the novel is working on me.|
AUTHORLINK: What are you working on next?
MACHART: A novel Im calling Until Daylight Delivers Me, but Im not sure working on the novel is an accurate description of the way I see my relationship to my work. It feels a whole hell of a lot more like the novel is working on me.
About Bruce Machart:|
Macharts story collection comes on the heels of his multiple award-winning debut novel, The Wake of Forgiveness. He has held many of the same jobs as his characters and is now an English professor. He lives in Massachusetts.
About Regular Contributor:
Diane Slocum has been a newspaper reporter and editor and authored an historical book. As a freelance writer, she contributes regularly to magazines and newspapers. She writes features on authors and a column for writers and readers in Lifestyle magazine. She is assigned to write interviews of first-time novelists and bestselling authors for Authorlink.