I was honored to be invited to chat with Cynthia Canty for her Michigan Public Radio program Stateside:
As someone who left the Midwest, only to eventually return, Russell says he writes about the region to discover why he is so attracted to the area. For him, it comes down to the region’s sense of community. “People are finding it is a place they want to be. The community in the Midwest is wonderful in general.”
Thanks to everyone at the program for having me. I had an absolute blast.
I chatted with WhiskeyPaper Press about the first story in my collection Don’t Ask Me to Spell It Out, “Frans”:
I’m fascinated with how we remember things—with how we want to remember things. We want to create life where there is none; we want to forget pain when we should be holding onto it. Frans in this story—his house, his life—is this whole other stable life that the unnamed narrator is recalling.
I wrote a Western called Mesilla. It’ll be published this fall by Dock Street Press. I’m so excited. More to come soon. But here’s the awesome cover.
Editor Rachel Farrell interviewed me at the Michigan Quarterly Review blog about TV’s Patrick Duffy, my various writing processes, and more:
What would you say is the organizing principle holding together the stories in Don’t Ask?
The collection is really about the small moments of life that ultimately do define who we are—moments we tend to overlook or forget: the dissolution of relationships piece by piece, how they start falling apart; lying to someone in order to impress them even when it goes nowhere; family drama that is only just comprehensible, perhaps, as you lived through it, but now, older, it seems far greater, far more meaningful than it did at the time; our interactions with people who may not be in our lives any longer and were only in them briefly, but how those, all of those moments, help build us up to who we are now. I’m fascinated with relationships, with how we interact with people, and I’m doubly fascinated by how these intersect with memory and nostalgia and how we humans tend to either completely mind-wipe things from our heads, or remember only selected parts of things rather than the whole, and this collection is my exploration of this—how we’re molded by the small moments in our lives and taking stock of them.
Thanks to Rachel for asking me to do this and engaging me in some really fun/poignant discussions.
I make no apologies for my idolization of Stuart Dybek, author and poet extraordinaire. He is a master storyteller, and king of the short story. Don’t believe me? Read “Pet Milk” from Coast of Chicago (which is a collection I can’t recommend enough) and see how he paints with nostalgia; how he makes us feel the quiet moments of reflection…ponder on the human condition like no other.
It was an absolute joy welcoming Stuart to Ann Arbor last week for Voices of the Middle West 2015, a literary conference I put on through Midwestern Gothic. He read a selection from Paper Lanterns (also incredible), and I was honored to be able to welcome him to the stage for the keynote, to get to say a few words about how he exemplifies the Midwest…our mythos and stories.
And his keynote did not disappoint. It was funny, poignant…just stellar. He gave perhaps some of the best writing advice I’ve heard in my life, a play on the old adage of “write what you know”: our lives, no matter what they are, our races and genders and creeds…these are gifts. Gifts we should embrace when we write, stories that only we can tell. And so we shouldn’t have to feel the need to be something or someone else.
That really stuck with me, and I have a feeling always will.
What a wonderful weekend, and Stuart, if you’re reading this (in my dreams): thank you.
Very excited to announce my chapbook Don’t Ask Me to Spell It Out is now available for purchase from WhiskeyPaper Press.
Here’s what some wonderful folks had to say about it:
Don’t Ask Me to Spell It Out takes flight in the jagged chasm between who we are and who we want to be, starkly illustrating how we love, and lose, only to re-build ourselves again. —Ben Tanzer, author of Orphans and Lost in Space
Robert James Russell’s voice is full of the Midwest, full of the odd mix of modesty and boastfulness, the hard rough luck and unlikely grace that characterizes this part of the country. His young narrators, unsure of themselves and their place in the world, help us navigate through our own uncertainty. —Amber Sparks, author of May We Shed These Human Bodies
Simply put, they don’t make them like Robert James Russell anymore. Witness here the craft of a master. Crisp, fine-tuned stories that milk every bit of meaning and power out of the words while still managing to touch and move the reader. We’re lucky to have him, so consume these works greedily and then do it all over again. —Jared Yates Sexton, author of An End to All Things
The book is $12, and I am so, so thankful to Leesa and Loran at WhiskeyPaper Press…so happy with how it turned out, with everything.
Sea and Rain (1865)
by James McNeill Whistler
University of Michigan Museum of Art
*Note: I can’t stop staring at this piece, which I’m fortunate enough to be able to see on display in Ann Arbor whenever I want. Something about it is so dreary and unnerving yet hopeful. Inspiring my newest project in a huge way.
I was recently interviewed by Brandon Bye of the Ann Arbor Current, a local arts/life publication, about the upcoming 2015 Voices of the Middle West festival, Midwest literature, and more:
Is there a Midwest Lit renaissance happening right now?
Yes, absolutely. People are seeing these stories about the “ugly” side of life, stories about the everyday, about struggling folks, and they’re embracing them. Never before have I been prouder to be a Midwesterner, and never before have I seen so much of us out there in the literary consciousness.
Thanks to Brandon for talking with me.
My upcoming chapbook Don’t Ask Me to Spell It Out is due out this April, and the publishers at WhiskeyPaper Press asked me to put a playlist together (they dig music + writing, and so do I), which you can listen to now over on Spotify.
Here’s the tracklist:
1. “Montana” by Youth Lagoon
2. “Oblivion” by Grimes
3. “True Loves” by Hooray for Earth
4. “Comeback Kid” by Sleigh Bells
5. “Playground Love” by Air
6. “I’m Not the One” by The Black Keys
7. “Myth” by Beach House
8. “Ces Bottes Sont Faites Pour Marcher” by Eileen
9. “Sooner Than Now” by Sin Cos Tan
10. “Retrograde” by James Blake
11. “Golden Light” by Twin Shadow
12. “Calling in the Name of Love” by Active Child
And here’s more info about the book.
Here’s a thing I recently picked up—after wanting to read for years—and it’s dazzling wonderful:
Geof Darrow’s The Shaolin Cowboy was collected in a new edition in December and it’s a crazy, hyper-violent, beautifully drawn post-Apocalyptic East-meets-West fairy tale. Holy lord the line work and colors and writing are all incredible,. Just gorgeous from start to finish, the art, the writing…so inspired by this bad boy.