Each semester, the Writing University hosts the 5Q Interview series with authors from the University of Iowa Press. We sit down with UI Press authors to ask about their work, their process, their reading lists and events. Today we are speaking with Thomas A. Dodson, author of No Use Pretending. Thomas A. Dodson is assistant professor and librarian at Southern Oregon University. He lives in Ashland, Oregon.
1. Can you tell us a little about your new book No Use Pretending?
It’s my first book, collecting the stories I wrote and published in lit journals over about ten years. I tend to do a lot of research for the stories I write—I’m a librarian by profession—and I appreciate how fiction writing allows me to dig deeper into topics that interest me without having to be a specialist or do it in a strictly academic way. Over the years covered by these stories, I’ve been interested in Tibetan Buddhist saints, USAF drone pilots, fracking and man-made earthquakes, beekeeping, The Odyssey, and the classist slur “Cricker”—which, as far as I can tell is only used in Kirksville, Missouri, the town where I grew up. I’d say a reader who enjoys the stories of Jim Shepard would probably also feel an affinity for the kinds of things I get up to in this book.
2. What was the inspiration for this work?
Well, it’s a pretty diverse set of stories, each sparked by something different. Sometimes it’s something in the news—bee hive heists in California, anthropogenic earthquakes in Oklahoma—and other times it can be something more personal. I wrote “The Master of Sleep,” for example, during a major depressive episode. I found it very difficult to write at that time because all I wanted to do was stay in bed and sleep. Then I remembered this story by Kafka, “The Hunger Artist,” in which a guy makes an artform out of starving himself, and I thought: I wonder if I could do something like that, but with someone who wants to sleep all the time.
Often, it’s the intersection of personal and intellectual or artistic things. I fell in love with Lorrie Moore’s 2nd person narrators in her collection Self-Help, for example, and wanted to try that. At the time I was talking a lot with a close friend of mine about her difficulties trying to date straight men as an HIV-positive woman. With her permission, I started a 2nd person story that drew from our conversations, one in which, through the point of view, I sought to impose some intimacy on readers who might not immediately see themselves in the narrator and her situation.
3. Do you have any plans for readings or events for this book, either in person or virtual?
I’m doing a sort of mini-tour: Boston and Iowa City in October, Portland in November. I live in Ashland, Oregon, and I think the university may stream the reading I’m giving here. Elsewhere, I’ll be in conversation with some really great people, the novelist Daphne Kalotay, who has a new collection of stories out, The Archivists, and Zoe Ballering, whose wonderful book There is Only Us has, I’d like to think, some things in common with mine. I’m really looking forward to those conversations. Details are on my site, here: https://thomasadodson.com/press/.
4. What are you reading right now? Any books from other university or independent presses?
There are a lot of books on my shelves right now from indie or academic presses. Tin House publishes such wonderful things: Talia Lakshmi Kolluri’s What We Fed to the Manticore, Morgan Talty’s Night of the Living Rez, Margot Livesey’s craft book The Hidden Machinery. I try to keep up with some of the writers who’ve recently came out of Iowa, and I’ve been really impressed with both Arinze Ifeakandu’s God’s Children Are Little Broken Things and Ada Zhang’s The Sorrows of Others, both published by A Public Space Books. I just picked up James Frankie Thomas’s novel Idlewild (The Overlook Press,); I read some of his fiction at Iowa and it was tremendous.
I love Amitav Ghosh’s work, and I’ve been listening to his latest book, The Curse of the Nutmeg (University of Chicago Press), to wind down in the evenings. So much of how I see the intersection of literature and climate change is drawn from Ghosh’s earlier book, The Great Derangement. In that same vein, I’d also recommend Min Hyoung Song’s Climate Lyricism (Duke University Press).
I also love books about writing craft and pedagogy and have been especially interested in recent books that offer alternatives to the standard workshop model. I’ve written a bit about this elsewhere (https://thomasadodson.com/stories/craft/). Finally, I’ll be teaching a library science class next term at SOU, and to get ready for that I’ve been reading Algorithms of Oppression (NYU Press) and More than a Glitch: Confronting Race, Gender, and Ability Bias in Tech (MIT Press).
One of the perks and pleasures of being a librarian at a university is that I can purchase these kinds of book and make them available to our students.
5. What is your writing routine? Do you have a daily routine?
I’ve never had anything like a daily writing routine. I’m beginning to suspect I’m constitutionally incapable of that kind of self-discipline. I’ve tried pushing myself to write when I don’t have a project I’m interested in—doing exercises, free writing with other people, journaling, etc. Honestly, I couldn’t say much has ever come from it. I don’t know, maybe I just need the focus and grounding provided by a specific project to really want to get down to work. Also, to let myself off the hook a little bit, writing is still a hobby for me; with the exception of those two years at the MFA program at Iowa, my actual career has long been in academic librarianship and web development, and I spend a good amount of time keeping up with all that.
Thank you Thomas!