Interviewed by John Haggerty
Read Conor Patrick’s fiction piece, The Moon Is Up Yet It Is Not Night
John: This piece deals with an eventful and traumatic period in history, but does so with tremendous subtlety. Was this your intention in setting out to write it?
Conor: I don’t know if I had a conscious intent when I started. I like to work down to the kernel of an idea and then let it lead, when I can, rather than set out to this or that end. The historical context of the piece emerged during the writing process and became one of the story’s driving engines, though not, I would say, its destination.
Do you remember what the first inspiration was for “The Moon is Up”? And how do you explore an idea like that? Is it simply a matter of writing until the story emerges?
Truth is, I myself was behind a fairly large tree when a stranger snapped a photo of it; that was the conceptual seed, though at the time, the idea alone was inert. The dynamo of any story is the human element, so I tried to focus instead on the characters who would tangle with the inherent questions the photo raises in an authentic, living, resonant environment and approach their own answers.
Your approach to this subject brings to mind writers like Carver and Hemingway. Do you see yourself as working in that lineage? What are some of your literary influences?
Sure, of course those two have been strong influences. Sherwood Anderson is another. I admire especially those writers’ ability to let a story tell itself. I am always pulled back by the gravity of the American short story tradition, but there are so many contemporary writers who make the whole thing look easy. If I named one, I’d leave out twenty. I spend a lot of time with novels across a spectrum of styles and approaches, scraped-clean prose like Faulkner to Pynchon’s labyrinths. All, I hope, goes into the distillery. My influences are probably more apparent to the outside reader than they are to me. I try not to see myself working in any particular lineage, not because I think I am outside them, but because I find thinking about other writers’ work while trying to do my own is the fastest way to feel like quitting writing forever.
You are an American living in the UK. How has being an American expatriate affected your work? Can you identify any thematic or stylistic parts of your work that might have come from this?
It’s tough to quantify the effect being an expat has had on my work, but I’d say it has made me more self-conscious in terms of voice and allowed me to approach stories (this very one, for example) I may not have been able to before. The borders of the landscape of what English can sound like and look like on the page have been pushed further outward. In short, the well is American, but the drill is becoming more European.