Thank you for accepting our invitation for this interview.
Who are the characters that inspired many of the stories included in Insurrections?
As I wrote this collection I noticed that fathers and their children were a reoccurring theme.
Photo by: Rebecca Aranda
This is not something I planned, but rather something that came up on its own in story after story. I attribute that to my father’s influence in my life. In one story, “Three Insurrections,” I consciously invoked my father, interviewing him about his life in order to write the story. What’s the intended mood of your book?
Since a story is a collaboration between reader and writer, I think the mood of a particular book or a particular story depends on the mood of the reader. A lot of heartbreak in your stories. Why? What do you see as a way out of despair?
Heartbreak makes for interesting narrative tension. Despair, at least how I’ve experienced it, will come and go. So the way out of despair is through it; the only way I know is to keep going. Good Times is a deceiving title. When did you write this story and why is it the first story in your book?
I wrote the story probably in 2011 and/or 2012 when I realized my book did not have a suitable opening. The hanging man is an image I thought a lot about and one I figured would draw people into the story and thus into the book. I remember parking far from my office on the other side of campus and composing parts of the story in my head on my way to and from my car.
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I went deep into the Wildlands one day, and when they found me, I was near death. My flesh generated enough heat to keep a power plant going for a month, probably. I burned at 107 as if my heart had been replaced by a tiny sun. The doctor tells me brain death begins at 106. He says this ashenfaced, surprised I’m sitting up, conscious, bleary and dazed, but alive. My parents sit across from my bed in Cross River Hospital Center, the place I was born. Here too I watched my son, Djassi, push himself into the world. I’m hoping the universe is not angling for some sort of sad symmetry, making my place of birth also my place of death.
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Is like history put its hands on my back and shove me from the sidewalk into the street, Kin. I always an athlete, so my mind does go back to that often. Stay on your feet. That’s what I keep thinking. Like I’m on the football pitch and some guy’s running toward me. I had a coach used to say, The most persistent rewards go to those who stay on their feet. But this, this is nothing like I ever seen, you know. These people out there rocking and flipping a car. We like bees, Kin. All of us. Thousands upon thousands of bees waking to find our queen get she head chop off. You see you, all delirious and half crazy? That’s how everybody was on that day. I’ll never forget April fifth, 1968. The fourth was like a dream. Fuzzy, confusing. But the fifth was real. Martin Luther King dead. I couldn’t tell you why I was out there, in truth, Kin. Some people want to take a piece of whitey and call that justice. An even trade, you know. Some want the things they can’t get on a regular day: television sets, jackets, scarves, food, all that. And then some just out there craving the fire, the burn. I don’t know, boy. Maybe I wanted some of all of that. Too much to name, I guess. All I know is that I’m angry like everyone else. Whatever burn in them burn in me. I feel that buzzing like bee wings inside me. Wasn’t no, I a Trini and you a Yankee. I a Trini and you a negro. Naw. Before I open my mouth they treat us all like niggers. That’s it. Ain’t take long to figure that out.
Wait, I go get to the pipe in a minute. (Expert from Three Insurrections)
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A Friendly Game is about a lot more complex themes than just a game. And the most complex games of all is…
Connecting human hearts, whether in friendship, family or in love. Either that or chess. Or Scrabble. How long did it take you to write the book? Did you have a daily set regimen?
The oldest story—“The Legend of Ezekiel Marcus”—dates back to 2005, in concept. It was much different then, a bit of a mess. I rewrote it many years later from scratch, keeping only a few sentences. My writing process is a bit erratic and changes from project to project and often depending on my responsibilities to my job and my family. How do you see your writing in relation to all the issues and problems discussed in your book?
I’d be naïve to think that my stories will strike some sort of definitive blow to the heart of toxic masculinity or the drug war or whatever societal ill happened to be on my mind as I wrote. That would be nice. A lot of the issues addressed in the stories are so entrenched that I didn’t even know my stories addressed these issues until much later. For instance, neither “Juba” nor “Everyone Lives in a Flood Zone” could exist without the havoc of the drug war. Neither of these stories were drafted to in protest of the drug war, I just thought of them as tales of people reacting to their environments. I’m simply trying to be as truthful and as honest as I can be about the emotional landscape of my characters. The hope is that this honesty will connect with individual readers and they can do whatever they want with that connection. When it comes to your writing, do you care about recognition or do you write simply because you cannot avoid writing?
I think it’s both. I write for readers. I write books so that people engage with them and are perhaps changed. At the same time there is nothing I love quite as much as entering my fictional world. It’s enjoyable in a way that nothing else in life is. I feel deflated, angered and annoyed when I am kept for long periods from writing. Who is your targeted audience and what impact do you want your stories to have on your readers?
I want and desire every reader, but I do draw most heavily from black culture and feel most in conversation with black readers. I hope my stories sit on the hearts of everybody who reads them and changes the beat just slightly. What’s most hopeful story you have heard recently? My five year old son dictates stories to me and I write them down for him. The latest is called “The Boy Who Lost His Family.” I know that doesn’t sound hopeful, but it’s a fun kind of fairytale. Any story I hear told with his voice—even the story of his latest nightmare—automatically becomes the most hopeful story I’ve ever heard. Just hearing his voice often fills me with hope. www.rionamilcarscott.com