Storyglossia Issue 38, February 2010.

An Interview with James Miranda


James Miranda's "All In" appears in Storyglossia 38. Here, James discusses creating authentic voice in fiction, selfish characters and our empathy for them nonetheless, and what he's currently working on.


Anne Valente: The voice and diction here are just perfect. How did you get into Tom's perspective, to fully talk and think the way he does?


James Miranda: I think this is a variation of a voice that I had been toying with in a number of stories over the past year or so—the world-weary, inveterate gambler who is painfully aware of this new tide rushing at him. A voice that knows it's becoming obsolete. My grandfather was a professional handicapper, he bet horses for a living, and so there was always something alluring about the language that accompanied that world. It also didn't hurt to spend some time at a poker table and listen to the way players talk, the way they established a pecking order. I wouldn't say that it was enjoyable to think the way Tom does, but it was definitely enjoyable, from a craft perspective, to speak through him. Something that attracts me to this particular kind of language is the exclusivity of it, the way it's used as a mechanism to keep the outsiders out. It's fun to put the reader in that position at times.


AV: Tom feels a certain nostalgia throughout the story, for the way casinos used to be, but of course, also for Anne. How does his relationship with her mirror his own feelings toward his lifestyle and the world around him?


JM: Well, in a word, regret mainly. There is a strong feeling of regret that accompanies both recollections, but it's a regret that Tom owns . . . if that makes any sense. He's very aware of the decisions he's made and how they've had an impact on his life, but he's not apologetic about these decisions. This is what makes him a hard character to be around at times. Should I break into Sinatra's "My Way" here?


AV: As you mention, Tom seems somewhat selfish, not wanting to visit Anne's sister because Hawaii has no casinos, while Anne is more maternal—for her coworkers, and also for the child she wants to have. Do their personalities inevitably tear them apart, in the end?


JM: Absolutely. Tom is undeniably selfish. What hurt me about developing Tom's character was seeing how selfish, how meager he was with himself. There is a brief flicker of opportunity here, but it's enough to shine a light on both lives and reveal much that remains unsaid in their relationship.


AV: The title is a nice play on gambling terminology, but also on Tom's inability to be fully in his marriage with Anne. Yet he still feels regrets, as is clear by the final lines that resonate with his favorite memories of Anne. Was it difficult to draw out a conflicted character, one whose faults we see but who we also sympathize with?


JM: In a way I knew from the beginning that things would not end well for Tom. Characters like this carry with them an inevitable force of entropy that works its way into the fabric of the story. It's inherent even in his very language, the way that he relates to the reader as a narrator. Tom is nothing if not tired, and there is something about the push and pull between this exhaustion and the insistent continuity of the game that seems almost absurd. He's a character that believes he is in control and that makes for tragedy. I empathize with Tom at the end of this piece but I don't know if I sympathize with him.


AV: Did this story require much research into casinos and gambling? The lingo used is impressive.


JM: "Research" . . . .sure, let's call it that. Very expensive and time-consuming "research."


AV: What are you currently working on?


JM: Right now I'm working on a novel entitled Scratch that's set in upstate New York about a small-time thoroughbred horse-trainer. So far it's been an absolute pleasure to research and write, so I'll just leave it at that before I jinx myself. That gambler's superstition coming through . . . I'm also putting the finishing touches on a collection, of which "All In" is a part.


James Miranda currently lives and writes in Kalamazoo, Michigan. His work has appeared or is forthcoming from Alaska Quarterly Review, Third Coast and PIF Magazine.