Today’s interview is with Raymond Cothern, the author of the flash fiction story “Amanda.” He’s an LSU fan, but otherwise seems like a pretty nice guy.
Describe your poetry in 25 words or less.
My prose leans more to the Hemingway style than the Faulkner one. Nothing wrong with sentences going on for pages like Faulkner, and in fact sometimes my sentences go on and on to capture not only the rhythm of language itself but to build momentum about whatever is being revealed. I believe like Hemingway that you make your point as succinctly as possible and move on. Whether revealing aspects of character or plot points, the average reader (if there is such a thing) wants movement in whatever they are reading.
Who has influenced you the most as a writer?
Influence? Hemingway for his brevity, I guess. Walker Percy, who I had the privilege of studying with in a novel-writing class at LSU. A lot of Southern authors when I was younger: Capote, Welty, Harper Lee (what writer doesn’t recognize the pristine quality of her book?), Reynolds Price, Peter Taylor, Barry Hannah, Robb Forman Dew.
Tell me about your story “Amanda.”
“Amanda” was flash fiction that grew out of a real incident, unfortunately. A friend’s daughter committed suicide and having two daughters it haunted me for weeks. The way to perhaps settle things was to imagine some circumstances and to make some bold swipes in trying to fictionally understand it.
Do you keep a blog?
I do have a blog– http://swimmingunderwater-raymond.blogspot.com/ – although I’ve gotten lax about posting regularly.
What are you reading right now?
This will sound impressive or maybe more like bragging but at any one time I may be reading 15 to 20 books at the same time. Hey, if they are good, no matter how long it takes before getting back to one, the characters and plot are always held in suspension. The main reason I have bookmarks in so many books is simple. I switch hit. The books I read are determined by mood and circumstance. I want something lighter while in bed before going to sleep; easier to breeze along with something for a few pages but getting sleepy. I tend not to read something literary late at night that I want to really concentrate on the language, etc. Other times I’m in the mood for a good memoir or mystery or some book on film. I do have a small bookcase by the toilet; two reasons: every nook and bookcase is stuff, even bookcases in the garage; and I always manage a page or two while sitting and contemplating the ways of the world. A quick list of some being read: The Boy Kings of Texas (Martinez), The Given Day (Lehane), Lit (Mary Karr), The Art of Fielding (Harbach), Devotion (Shapiro), The Lost City of Z (Grann), The Names of the Dead (O’Nan), Being Polite to Hitler (Dew).
Do you have any advice for other writers?
Advice. Hmm. Read, read, read. I really taught myself to write (in large part) by reading. If the writing is good, pay attention. And practice, practice, write as often as you can. Now, no amount of reading and writing will give you whatever burning bush of creativity that makes for great writing, but writing is a craft, a learnable craft. What also helped me as a writer was my determination to be a playwright, to write in play form; if you can bring everything that the listener (reader) needs to know through dialogue and do it effortlessly, then that is a great “training” tool. I still write plays as well as fiction and the rest.
What are you working on right now?
I recently finished a memoir called Swimming Underwater (hence the blog name), about my youngest daughter’s life and death battle years ago with encephalitis. (She’s okay now.) I was able to stand at the hospital window and look over the old neighborhood where I grew up and where even we lived when my daughters were young. The book is a dance between a journal I kept to keep myself sane during those dark days and my memories of growing up in that neighborhood and raising a lot of hell. I have gotten some really fine praise and encouragement after first reads by a National Book Award winning author and a top agent in NYC. I am in the process of revising the second half of it.
By the way, my blood type is O, I think.
Raymond Cothern, a native of Louisiana, studied writing at LSU under Walker Percy and Vance Bourjaily. He is winner of the Deep South Writers Conference and the St. Tammany National One-Act Play Festival. His short play, THE LONG HYMN OF DILEMMA, was produced in New York City as part of the 2012 Davenport Theatrical Enterprises Play Festival. His play, THE PALLBEARER’S SOCIAL, was a finalist in the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center’s National Playwrights Conference and was also a 2011 semi-finalist in the Playwrights First Award sponsored by the National Arts Club of New York City. Other plays, including DYING FOR THE METAPHORS and MEMORIAL VIDEO, were either finalists or semi-finalists in the Riant Theatre’s Strawberry One-Act Festival in New York City, in the Time to Strike Festival produced by Strike 38! Productions, and in the 5th Annual Play Tour sponsored by cARTel Collaborative Arts Los Angeles. In addition to film work and producing more than 75 theatrical productions in the South, his fiction and poetry have been published in MANCHAC, INTRO 8 (Doubleday & Co.), and in the Swedish literary magazine, TWO THIRDS NORTH. His essay, FOOD & PHOTOGRAPHS, appears in the book MEANWHILE BACK AT THE CAFÉ DU MONDE. He recently completed work on a memoir, SWIMMING UNDERWATER, about growing up in Louisiana and framed by the story of the devastating effects of viral encephalitis on his daughter and of her triumph in achieving a normal life.