Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Q&A with Jim Mason, author of Positively No Dancing

This Saturday (6 pm), Jim Mason returns to the neighborhood and Freebird Books (123 Columbia Street) to read from his collection of short stories, Positively No Dancing (the second edition now out in a Freebird paperback for $10). In prep for that, Freebird posed a few questions.

So when did you start writing these stories?

I don't know. I took a writing class at Gotham Writer's Workshop when I turned 40, and some of these stories came out of that. I guess I was always scribbling, but I didn't get anything done until I paid someone to make me write.

They seem to take place in and around watering holes. Where were some of the bars you found inspiration in?

O'Connor's, mostly. Also Hank's, Montero's, Brooklyn Inn. And I'll give a shout out to B61, since that was my last regular, though most of these stories were written before that.

These aren’t really “bar stories” per se. Your writing is never self-indulgent like Bukowski’s. Rather there is a quieter, more uncanny style to your prose that reminded me a lot of Denis Johnson. Without getting too fancy pants, where would you situate your stories?

In fancy pants bars.

For a pretty no nonsense guy, what’s with all the kids in your stories?

I didn't realize there were all the kids in my stories. But you're right. Someone once pointed out that there's a lot about teeth in my stories, too. I don't know. I like kids. I feel more comfortable around them. They don't judge. I remember dozens of BBQ's in Brooklyn where I'd end up talking to my friends' kids instead of my friends. It's fun to talk to them like they're adults. Like asking them what they do for a living or if they're married. It cracks them up. They're a great audience. The only judgement I ever get from them is they invariably ask me why my front tooth is black. But they don't tell me I should get it fixed or anything, so I guess it's not really a judgement. They just notice it, announce it, and go on. So, kids and teeth. I don't know.

Who do you like to read?

Raymond DeCapite's "A Lost King" is my favorite novel ever. It was just republished. Buy it, anyone who is reading this. Salinger, T.S. Eliot, Ogden Nash, Cormac McCarthy, Katherine Anne Porter, Flannery O'Connor, Tim O'Brien, Langston Hughes, Joseph Conrad. Shit, so much. So much yet to read, too.

Care to tell us where you have been hanging out in the last few months?

I've been living in my parents' basement in Elyria, Ohio. I have become a bit agoraphobic. I will go to the drive-thru for beer and cigarettes. I will occasionally venture to the local bar, Smitty's (where Obama stopped on his campaign tour and ordered a burger) and get drunk with my Sanitation worker friends. I'm not a Sanitation worker. They just let me hang out with them.

In the 20 plus years you made Brooklyn home, what changed the most about the place?

Well, the usual. Outrageous rents and ping pong tables.

You still have the pork pie hat?

I don't wear pork pie hats. I wear teardrop fedoras.

What do you plan to read at the event?

My book, Peter.

What’s the deal with calling me smartass in all your interviews? Haven’t I exploited you in the best possible way?

I apologize, Peter. I've always been accused of having a self-destructive streak. Smartass.

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