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Interview

Kevin Moffett

Kevin MoffettKevin Moffett is the author of the short-story collection Permanent Visitors, and his stories have appeared in McSweeney’s, Tin House, and twice in The Best American Short Stories. Until recently, he edited and wrote for Funworld, the official magazine of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (see his essay in The Believer). George Saunders has called him a writer “with the very rare gift of true kind-heartedness.” He teaches in the graduate writing program at Cal State University, San Bernardino.

TMN: In your story “Ursa, On Zoo Property and Off,” there’s a sequence where the main character describes taking a tour of a zoo. It’s probably one of the funniest passages I’ve read all year. There are a lot of other brushes with animals in your book. Did these stories come out of your experiences with Funworld?

Kevin Moffett: I’ve always been fascinated with human interactions with animals, especially accidental ones. One of my first memories is sitting on the hood of my parents’ car in the Adirondacks watching these amazing brown bears (I think they were brown bears) fighting each other over trash at the dump. That’s one of those moments when you first start to realize the world isn’t as uncomplicated as you think it is. Everywhere I’ve lived, it seems like there’ve been these delegate animals around. In Florida I lived near a man-made lake inhabited by a pair of alligators. In Iowa we had barred owls in our back yard that, on certain nights, would call back and forth for hours. Here in Claremont, I sometimes see coyotes walking up and down the street in the morning, looking for cats to eat, I think.

TMN: What makes you irrationally angry?

KM: Today it’s unnecessary packaging. People who begin food orders with “I’m gonna do the—”. ESPN anchormen. People who ascribe adult intentions to babies, like, Look, he’s flirting with you. Able-bodied people who press the handicapped button for automatic doors.

TMN: Who’s the most under-appreciated author in the world?

KM: Not sure where or how she’s rated, but I’m always surprised when people haven’t read Joy Williams. In fact, I think a couple of her story collections are out of print, which is insanity. Here’s one more: Victor Pelevin. His collection, A Werewolf Problem in Central Russia, is one of the most jarringly original books I’ve ever read.

TMN: One thing that first impressed me away about your stories is how well you’re able to thread the expository information into the action. Is that something you’re conscious of—giving your stories that kind of seamless, propelled effect?

KM: You know, the first bunch of stories I wrote had zero exposition. Like a lot of my own students now, when I was an undergraduate I was blown away by books like Jesus’ Son, which has little in the way of traditional exposition. And I found it was really easy to write average imitations of good stories. So that’s what I did. It took me a long time to see the buried circuitry in a story like “Emergency.”

After college, I got the job writing for and editing Funworld. I started off turning thousand-word press releases into 200-word mini-articles, which was totally soul-sapping, but it actually taught me a lot about writing expository sentences.

Kevin MoffettTMN: What is your favorite object in your office?

KM: It’s a framed slip of paper that says, “Make up some good shit.” I was sitting in Padgett Powell’s office as an undergraduate, probably staring dimly at him while he tried to explain what was wrong with one of my stories. He turned the story over and wrote this on the back of it. That’s it, he said. That’s all you have to do.

TMN: What have you been reading lately?

KM: I just finished Chris Adrian’s collection, and now I’m reading it again. What a strange and glorious book. What else? I’ve been reading a lot of books set around Los Angeles for a course I’m teaching next year. Day of the Locust, Less Than Zero (ugh), and Kem Nunn’s Tapping the Source, which inspired the movie Point Break and is approximately 500 times better.

TMN: Have you ever thought about writing a novel?

KM: God yes. I think about it a lot. I’ve probably spent as much time writing novels as writing short stories, to little effect so far. I find it tweaks the way I write sentences, the way I conceive of characters. Right now, I feel like I have an intuitive sense of a short story by the time I’ve written two paragraphs—where it’ll go, how it’ll get there. With novels it’s like I’m treading water in the middle of the ocean, and maybe there’s a boat out there somewhere, but I don’t know which direction I should start paddling.

I’m about done with my second collection of stories, though, and then I’m going to give it another shot. I have an idea that I think has some promise.

TMN: What is your favorite sport?

KM: My favorite sport is watching professionals play sports. I’ve also been skateboarding lately, which I was consumed with for about a decade, from junior high school until just after college. I live within five miles of about a half-dozen free concrete skate parks, so I fling myself around those when I’m feeling lucky.
biopic

TMN editor Matt Ray Robison is a fellow at the University of Michigan’s Helen Zell Writers’ Program. He lives in Ann Arbor. More by Matt Ray Robison

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