Friday, December 18, 2009

An Interview With Mikael Covey

Mikael Coveyís short story, ďTransubstantiation,Ē appears in STORYGLOSSIA 37. Here, Mikael takes a few moments to talk about the premise for this story, writing character psychology, his work with Lit Up Magazine, and what heís currently working on.

Anne Valente: Where did the premise for this story come from?

Mikael Covey: I got the idea from reading Bill Ectricís book Space Savers. He has an intriguing story there about Easter Island. And at the same time, I was reading an article about the ritualistic usages of yage; which reminded me of when I was a car salesman in Atlanta and the fire and brimstone preachers would rant and rave on AM talk radio, publicizing their upcoming revival meetings.

But thatís a great question because it illustrates how our little minds work, connecting all these vaguely related ideas from different times and places which all happen at once within our thoughts. I suppose thatís what storytelling is all about - bringing various ideas together to form a somewhat coherent whole; or trying to make some sense out of what we see and feel.

And I guess the general background of the story comes from when I lived in the poverty stricken tropical paradise which is the country of Panama - the Indian girls, palm trees, and so forth.

AV: This story so effectively places us inside the narrator's head that we begin to feel uncomfortable, perhaps even claustrophobic, inside his paranoia. Was this effect difficult to achieve? How did you go about achieving this so powerfully?

MC: I wasnít aware of that, but I suppose any story belongs as much to the reader as it does to the writer. And itís very odd to think of how the human specie of animal communicates amongst itself with these various odd symbols and sounds - like we was sumpin, huh. And despite that ability, we spend much of our energies hating each other. Whuz it for?

There is one thing though (back to your question) - I was very sick for awhile, some time back - suicidal depression for months, which is altogether unbearable. Seems Iíd just finished re-writes on a novel about my life; and that was too depressing to endure. Really awful to be constantly thinking about how youíve wasted your life, misspent your little allotted time on this planet. So, no sleep and constant dread of not being able to sleep and having to get up and go to work anyway. And still not being able to sleep after that. Dreading sundown; being okay during the daytime. Thinking itís alright now, youíre gonna make it. Then the blackness of winter sunset, and the agony all returning. Anxiety, shakiness; hands shaking so bad I canít take my pills. Typing faster than I can think. Drinking the horrible bourbon and cough syrup - nothing helps. But my old friend Susie, emails from Florida about her life, her kids, that sorta thing. Saved meÖthanks Susie.

So of course I figured I could maybe use that in a story sometime. But you can never really describe the horrors of suicidal depression. Thatís a tough one.

AV: In addition to fiction, you write poems, essays, reviews and opinion pieces as well. Do these forms intersect often for you? How do the other genres influence your fiction writing?

MC: When youíre a kid, you think you can write fiction like poetry, but you canít. Like it or not, the genres are their own beast. So I used to be a poet, but that was a long time ago. Had to re-learn how to write like the moderns, like Tony OíNeill, like Puma Pearl, and I canít get to their level. So after I was a poet or before that, I became a philosopher Ė long essays about life love religion government economics - every anything. The cure for all the worldís ills. I think weíre all obliged to do that - part of our main function in life (maybe Sartre said that, maybe Kant; I donít know).

Anyway, when I was writing one of my favorite books, called Princessa, I was reading Dan Fante and Tom McCarthy, and surprised to find that it didnít bother me to read great writers while writing. Like - yeah thatís good; yeah, I can do that too.

AV: Speaking of reading other writers, you serve as the editor of Lit Up Magazine. Can you talk a little about your work with the magazine?

MC: Great question. I was talking to Joe Ridgwell about starting a zine; not for real, just sort of making conversation, idle thoughts, whatever. Then Matt Borondy, editor of Identity Theory, was looking for new assistant editors. I threw my name into the hat, and started thinking of all the stuff Iíd like to see in a magazine - the best writing in the world that every a-hole loves to reject, streaming video, live chat with great writers and great minds, music, opinion, every anything. And I thought to myself, why not just do that; have complete control oíer it. Then I found out you canít get that stuff - like MSN homepage - without very expensive software or a degree in web design. So I settled for just great writing, and whatever else we can fit in.

AV: What are you currently working on?

MC: Iím currently retired, wore out, exhausted, ova the hill. My first book, Out There, was recently released. And I thought if I could ever consume enough Red Bull, Iíd do a book tour, do some stuff to promote the book, send out review copies, all that sorta stuff. So instead, Iím helping my neighbor fix up some of the aches and pains of her old house. Needs some new doors put in, lot a broke windows replaced, that kind of thing. And since my father died in March, Iím very much into only doing precisely what you want to do. No - this needs to be done, ought to do that, supposed to be doing this. Nope, only gonna do exactly what I want to. And thatís kind of satisfying.

As for my professional career as a professional writer Ė I havenít written anything since my dad died. Well, I did do a couple of book reviews during a long layover at OíHare airport. And Iíve been reading Knut Hamsun, about a page a week or so. (Everybody who sent me review copies of books - I will get to them. Just need to be stuck in an airport for a few hours, is all.)

Also, I do have a new book Iíve been working on for the past year or so. Itís about a teenager whose grandfather dies, so he decides to do exactly what he wants to do in life. Kinda funny how my own life would imitate what Iím writing about.

Mikael Covey lives in Dakota. He is the editor of Lit Up Magazine. His story ďPanamaĒ appeared in Issue 24 of Storyglossia. More of his published writing can be found at

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