Storyglossia Issue 38, February 2010.

An Interview with James Iredell


Jamie Iredell's short story, "Sappy," appears in Storyglossia 38. Here, Jamie takes the time to discuss the world of this story, the early '90s, lyricism in fiction, his recently released book, Prose: Poems, a Novel, and what he's currently working on.


Anne Valente: The details of this story are so fully realized the mall, Monterey. How important is setting to this piece?


Jamie Iredell: "Sappy" is part of a novel that's set in the Monterey Bay Area in California. The setting's important for a number of reasons: one, that's my home, where I grew up, and I know the area well; two, the characters are Mexican-Americans and, specifically Chicanos, and more specifically, the kind of Chicanos one meets in an area like the Monterey Bay. Many of the Mexican-Americans with whom I grew up were lower-middle class to middle class folks. Some were fairly poor, but they always had a spread of good food and fine hospitality waiting anyone who visited their home. Ricardo's a middle class Chicano, one who dreamed of a career as a comedian, but the draw of his home kept him there—not only for Renee. There's always the pull of a place like Monterey, if one's ever lived there and even if you only visit. You'll want to get back. I suppose the mall could've been anywhere, but the Del Monte Shopping Center in Monterey is an open-air mall, and you've got to walk in from outside to any of the shops, and this creates a certain atmosphere: it's a mall, but kind of not. I think this is what Ricardo craves—partly—when he goes there during this depression he's in. Also, malls seem to be the places where performers often are born and where they die. This is kind of the same with amusement parks. Say, for example, a band might get gigs playing for mall crowds on Saturdays. Sappy, although he's not performing here, is stuck in a kind of artistic/commercial rut, and malls are both the best and worst places for people who have dreams for any kind of career. Malls are wonderful places in which to feel yourself dying.


AV: In addition to details of place, we get details of time as well. Seinfeld, Champs Sports, Michael J. Fox, In Living Color. Why did you choose the early '90s for this story? How does this era fit with some of the themes in the piece?


JI: For one, since this story fits into a larger narrative, it needed to be consistent with the time for this character's life. On the other hand, Ricardo's a product of this specific time and place, and that's part of the reason he has his dream. When Ricardo was growing up he watched Johnny Carson hand over the reins to Leno, saw the golden years of Saturday Night Live, and had the best of Eddie Murphy, Chris Rock, and Jerry Seinfeld right in front if him. Of course, as a failed comedian, Ricardo has picked up as Sappy, and the character is a caricature of himself—someone who already is a caricature in many ways. It's a mirroring effect—this is where things get confusing. Ricardo—Sappy—is a clown both literally and figuratively. The feeling of the story, overall, I think is probably summed up best when the teenager bumps into Sappy in the mall and says, "Watch it, clown." That moment is a kind of objective correlative for the whole story, I think.


AV: There's a distinct rhythm to your language, both lyrical and poetic. Do you read your work aloud when you write? What is the revision process like for you?


JI: I don't generally read out loud when I write—certainly not in the act of composing. But I do read to others—my wife, writer-friends—and gauge reactions, and often make sentence-level changes for sound reasons when I hear things out loud. I started off as a poet and then became a fiction writer, so that probably has something to with any kind of lyricism in my prose. That said, I think it's the writer's job—no matter what genre he or she's working in—to pay close attention to language. If the work can't carry a reader with language—in my opinion—I'm just not interested. So, because of this, for me the revision process seems to never end. I keep going back to stuff and messing around with it for years. I'm always working on many projects at once and so it takes a long time to finish any one thing.


AV: You recently published Prose: Poems, a Novel. Can you talk a little about this project?


JI: The title kind of says all with this book: it's a collection of poems written in prose that when collected and organized have a narrative arc that is novel-like. I wouldn't actually call it a novel. That part of the title's a bit of joke, playing on that convention in titling things when it comes to fiction. The book follows a young guy as he tells you about growing up, playing high school football, going to parties, and going on hiking trips in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. He eventually moves to Reno, Nevada where his life takes a turn for the raucous. Some of his friends die. He leaves town, moves east, and eventually meets a woman for whom he's willing to change his life. He ends up seemingly a little closer to redeemed.


AV: What else are you currently working on? What stories are forthcoming that we can point readers to?


JI: I'm working on a bunch of books right now. I'm probably working most intently on a project called "The Book of Freaks." There are "freaks" (as I'm calling the individual prose pieces) coming out in PANK and Action, Yes that I'm excited about. I have some poems (lined poems) coming out in Limp Wrist and in Coconut Poetry. Other than that, I have a book of lined poems, "Metal Penelope," that I'm submitting around, trying to get published without having to send twenty or twenty-five dollars for a contest fee. That in itself takes a lot of time, simply trying to find reputable presses that publish poetry that do not require any kind of reading fee, and then following those few press's reading periods. I understand that many of poetry presses could not function at all if they didn't run contests and did not require reading fees, but jesus. I don't know; I feel it's a bleak outlook for young poets. Anyway, I'll stop ranting about that. I've also finished a novel "Our Lady of Refuge," from which "Sappy" is excerpted. Fingers crossed. If you give me a little luck, I'll have lots for you, too.


James Iredell lives in Atlanta and blogs at He wrote Prose: Poems, a Novel. His writing appears in The Literary Review, Pank, H_ng M_n, and many other magazines.