Curtis Smith is the author of two novels (Sound and Noise, An Unadorned Life), a story collection (The Species Crown), and two collections of short-short stories (In the Jukebox Light, Placing Ourselves Among the Living). The coming year will see the release of his next story collection (Bad Monkey, Press 53), novel (Truth or Something Like It, Casperian Books), and his first essay collection (The Agnostic’s Prayer, Sunnyoutside Press). His stories and essays have appeared in over fifty literary journals and have been cited by The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, and The Best American Spiritual Writing.
Q (Meg Pokrass): What story or book do you feel closest to?
I love Gatsby and The Sun Also Rises and Catcher in the Rye—they were my first introductions to literature as art. When I first started writing, I returned again and again to Rick Bass’s first collection, The Watch, and Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. As far as individual stories go, I’d have to say I’ve always had a fondness for Barth’s “Lost in the Funhouse” and Amy Hempel’s “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried.” I can return to them almost any time and be moved.
Do you have a mentor?
No. I did go the MFA route—I went to Vermont College in the early-to-mid 90’s. Sometimes when I’m working on a piece, I think of all the talented people I met there—and when I think of all the folks out there doing the same thing I’m doing, I find the motivation to keep searching for a better phrasing or image. Perhaps that counts as a kind of mentor.
How do you stay creative? What are your tricks to get “unstuck?”
I never worry about getting stuck because I’m always working. Some days are harder than others; the mess of life spills over into the time I’d hoped to set aside for writing, but as long as I’m putting pen to paper, I know I’m making some sort of progress. And the process involves so many different facets—planning, brainstorming, writing rough drafts, editing and revising, studying the market—that there’s always some activity that appeals to my frame of mind.
What are your favorite websites?
I visit Duotrope and New Pages a lot. I enjoy following the work of other writers via their Facebook posts. As far as reading goes, I dig Smokelong and Mississippi Review.
What are you working on now?
I’m revising a novel right now. And when I’m not doing that, I’m working on a bunch of flash fiction pieces. I’m also working on the edits for my upcoming essay collection.
What do you do for pure fun and silliness?
I watch Steven Seagal movies. Seriously. And I like to wrestle my son–but not at the same time.
What animal/animals do you own or would like to own?
We don’t have any pets currently. I like dogs, but they’re a lot of upkeep. I’d have a cat, but the others in the house are allergic. I’d welcome any suggestions.
Do you have a favorite Christmas movie?
You can’t go wrong with Capra. ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ really is great–and I don’t think it gets enough credit for having some rather dark undercurrents. ‘Meet John Doe’ is my favorite–Cooper and Stanwyck are wonderful. And not many films get away with addressing both Christmas and American fascism.