VAH: Sam, let’s begin with why do you write?
SS: I write because at this point I can’t not. My mentor, Mark Powell, described it best, I think. He said at one point that if he goes for a long period of time without writing, he starts to feel physically ill. I’m going to steal that. I get antsy if I go more than a day or two without writing. Hearing stories and lines and whatever else in my head all the time, writing is a release for that, like opening a faucet or whatever other cliché you want to put in there. It feels good to write (even though it can be torture at times to sit in front of a blank screen) and so I keep doing it.
VAH: When did you start writing?
SS: I started writing because, as a kid, I always told stories. They were mostly to myself, in the safety of my own room as I played with my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles action figures, but they were stories nonetheless. In public places, I would make stuff up constantly, wanting to sound more interesting than I was. Looking back, I can only imagine how crazy I probably sounded. In eighth grade I remember one particular assignment that really sealed the deal for me. We had our weekly spelling list—this may have been a marking period list, it was pretty long as I remember—and we had to write a story using all of the words. I wrote some fantasy tale
VAH: What are influenced your development as a writer?
SS: I have two different lists for this, really. First are the authors that I was reading when I was much younger—the ones that made me want to write in the first place. Among them, Brian Jacques, Jonathan Kellerman, RL Stine, Christopher Pike, and Caleb Carr come to mind. These writers wrote compelling pieces that were not hard to grasp. I read more because I was always interested. If I didn’t have that bunny hill education in reading, I probably wouldn’t have gotten to the point that I’m at now. If I would’ve jumped right into the canon, there’s a good bet that I would’ve hated reading and writing. I didn’t start reading a lot of “classics” until late in college, when I felt I was finally smart enough to understand them. I wasn’t in some cases, but what can you do? You can’t win ‘em all.
The second list of writers, after I started to actively pursue “literary” fiction writing, is the list more likely to pop up on my shelves these days. TC Boyle, Chuck Palahniuk, Flannery O’Connor, Kurt Vonnegut, Pinckney Benedict, Ricky Moody, Anthony Bourdain (his nonfiction, not his fiction), Steve Almond, and Rick Bass.
If I were to add any to that second list now, they’d be: Ron Rash, George Singleton, Ernest Hemingway, Lorrie Moore, Alice Munro, Karen Russell and Denis Johnson, among many others. I realize my taste in writers is terribly uniform and I’ve been working on changing that in the past year.
VAH: What do you remember about your first story or poem?
SS: The first story I wrote was about a bartender of a medieval tavern-turned-hero. I believe he had a sword that could either freeze an enemy or light them on fire. He saved a damsel at some point. Beyond that, I don’t remember anything else about it. I wrote it when I was in eighth grade for an assignment in Spelling, when we had to use a list of words in a story. At the time, I was into fantasy role-playing and, for some reason, I thought being a medieval barkeep was cool so all my heroes were bartenders.
VAH: What is the favorite piece you’ve written to date?
SS: My novel, Dogs, is up there because I learned what it meant to write a novel. As far as pieces that are or will be published, I really enjoy my story “Welcome to Milwaukee” which will be out in 2015 in Midwestern Gothic. The idea came from a trip I took to Minneapolis one time and it stuck with me until I finally wrote it down.
Sam Slaughter was born and raised in New Jersey and currently lives in Central Florida. He was educated at Elon University and Stetson University. He has fiction and nonfiction published or upcoming in a variety of places, including McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Midwestern Gothic, The Circus Book, The Review Review, and Heavy Feather Review. He is the Book Review Editor for The Atticus Review and a Contributing Editor at Entropy. He was recently awarded the 2014 There Will Be Words Prize and his first chapbook, When You Cross That Line, will be published in 2015.
Sam Slaughter Sampler:
1) An excerpt from DOGS, published at Revolution John
2) Part 1 of the story “Fame in the Graveyard,” published at The Circus Book
More Sam Slaughter on the 13th of the month.