Interviewed by Sommer Schafer
Read Matt Reed’s fiction piece, The Midweek Trainer
Sommer: I love the title of your story because it makes us think twice about who and what the story is about. It seems as if Kevin is the one with the big problem, but maybe the main problem actually has something to do with what Fatty represents. How were you able to write about two deeply flawed people who we ultimately care for at the end?
Matt: First of all thanks. I think instead of dealing with them directly, I used Kevin’s fast approaching fatherhood as contrast. How or why it works to create two sympathetic characters, I’m not sure. They do tease each other a lot about their situations, which I think keeps their problems in the foreground but they don’t have to deal with them directly—at least not yet.
The movie scene is simply fantastic. I love how you never once say, “Kevin and Fatty grew increasingly drunk,” though this fact is clear as day. Were you tempted at any point to throw in a “drunkenly,” and if so, what helped you veer away from that?
To tell you the truth, I never thought of them as drunk. Back when I was a full time ski instructor this was just how we packed for the movies: pockets full of peanut M&Ms and beer. I suppose that says something about perspective. We never thought of ourselves as drunk drunk, just feeling good and relaxed—which in hindsight is probably something I should work out with myself. My hope in the story was to show that Kevin and Fatty were experiencing it in the same way that we had—just making ourselves at home for a couple hours.
I also love how you keep bringing us back to the terrible weather, which magnifies all the tension in the story. When you initially thought of this story, what came to you first: the storm or Kevin’s problem? In what ways do you think setting/environment can influence plot?
What terrible weather? The fact of the matter is that for skiers, storms like these are what they wait for all winter. My initial goal was to write about skiing and skiers, but I had a really hard time. Describing skiing is hard—there’s no real shorthand (like say in baseball: bottom of the ninth, two outs, it’s outa here, etc)—so I tiptoed around it by putting in a huge storm, but not letting them ski, hence saving me from embarrassing and over poetic skiing descriptions and/or overly technical language. But —and I didn’t realize this at the time—it gave me an angle to get at Fatty. That Fatty—who has sacrificed a lot for skiing—finds relief in not skiing for a day (especially this day), I think, says a lot about his state of mind. The storm also serves as a trap for Kevin—but again that was a happy accident.
As a more general point, I’m afraid of leaning too heavily on setting/environment to do narrative work. I can too easily slide into the realm of symbols and allegory, and my thinking never runs deep enough for that. It works best for me when it trips characters up or interrupts their day. I think I’m writing well when the setting reminds us of the characters, but doesn’t crush them.
How do you find inspiration for a story?
Mostly, I mine my huge stockpile of embarrassing experiences, bring whatever I was trying to hide about myself in real life a little more into the foreground, then change the names, dates, and maybe locations. I don’t have much imagination and I’m not sure that I have any inner demons, but I’m rife with insecurities and fears that come out in my daily walkings around. For me, how a character deals with a stubbed toe or a spilled plate of food (both of which I’ve done a lot) can sometimes act as a roadmap for how they will react to the big stuff—death, loss, etc.
Do you have any advice for writers on handling rejection?
Funny story—I was fired from my job last July (an even funnier story), so I thought up a new life plan. In between dragging the kids out on hikes and looking for a job during the six months I had of unemployment benefits coming to me, I would finish my novel, get an agent, sell my novel, and never work again. This—as you may have guessed—did not work. I now have an email inbox and a Submittable account full of rejections, and though I feel battle worn, I don’t feel battle weary. I think in part because I’ve begun to get the lay of the land—as far as small magazines and small presses go (agents and the like are still very much a mystery to me). I’m learning where my sensibility/aesthetic fits in and where it doesn’t.
This was a recent tweet from @Wigleaf, one of the online lit mags I read and submit to: “When I’m feeling low, I send a story to Wigleaf and then go to the inbox and accept it. Just for fun.” I love this. It lets me know that all of the flashy websites I’m sending my stories to are run by quirky and weird people just like me.
Thank you for doing this interview with me, and congratulations!
Thanks Sommer, I’m so happy to be a part of the Forge Literary Magazine.