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On the Same Page with Wells Tower

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Viking marauders descend on a much-plundered island, hoping some mayhem will shake off the winter blahs. A man is booted out of his home after his wife discovers that the print of a bare foot on the inside of his windshield doesnt match her own. Teenage cousins, drugged by summer, meet with a reckoning in the woods. A boy runs off to the carnival after his stepfather bites him in a brawl.

In the stories of Wells Tower, families fall apart and messily try to reassemble themselves. His version of America is touched with the seamy splendor of the dropout, the misfit: failed inventors, boozy dreamers, hapless fathers, wayward sons. Combining electric prose with savage wit, Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned is a major debut, announcing a voice we have not heard before.

Wells Towers short stories and journalism have appeared in The New Yorker, Harpers Magazine, McSweeneys, The Paris Review, The Anchor Book of New American Short Stories, The Washington Post Magazine, and elsewhere. He received two Pushcart Prizes and the Plimpton Prize from The Paris Review. He divides his time between Chapel Hill, North Carolina and Brooklyn, New York.

Kane Webb interviewed Wells Tower at the Arkansas Studies Institute during the 2009 Arkansas Literary Festival a program of the Central Arkansas Library System.

Click here to visit the Wells Tower website

Transcript

THIS IS AETN PRESENTS ON THE SAME PAGE. TODAY WE'RE ON LOCATION AT THE ARKANSAS STUDIES INSTITUTE HERE IN THE ARKANSAS LITERARY FESTIVAL, WHERE WE TALKED TO WELLS TOWER, AUTHOR OF "EVERYTHING RAVAGED, EVERYTHING BURNED." HERE FOR OUR INTERVIEW WITH WELLS, COMING UP.

HERE'S THE BOOK "EVERYTHING RAVAGED" EVERYTHING BURNED "BY WELLS TOWER." THANKS FOR JOINING US, APPRECIATE IT.

THANK YOU. A PLEASURE.

CONGRATULATIONS ON THE BOOK. IT'S GETTING RAVE REVIEWS. I THINK "THE NEW YORK TIMES" HAS A POLICY THAT IT HAS TO MENTION IT EVERY DAY.

THEY EEFB BEEN VERY KIND.

WHAT'S THAT BEEN LIKE? YOUR FIRST COLLECTION OF SHORT STORIES AND TO SEE SUCH POSITIVE REACTION FROM IT.

IT'S INTERESTING. I COULDN'T IMAGINE, KNOWING WHAT I KNOW AND HOW I KNOW ABOUT THE WAY SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS ARE GENERALLY RECEIVED IN THE UNITED STATES, REALLY MY GREATEST HOPE FOR IT WOULD BE THAT ITSELF WOULD BE IGNORED AND SORT OF FADE INTO OBSCURETY WITHOUT BEING TOO DRASTICALLY EVISCERATED BY THE CRITICS. THE FACT THAT THEY SEEM TO BE LIKING IT HAS BEEN A BIT OF A SURPRISE. IT'S BEEN AFFIRMING. BEEN GREAT.

THESE ARE NINE STORIES.

THERE ARE.

THEY'VE ALL BEEN PUBLISHED ELSEWHERE, BUT YOU DIDN'T JUST PICK THEM AND SAY HERE, TAKE THESE. THERE WAS A LOT OF WORK THAT WENT INTO REVISING THESE BEFORE THEY WERE PUBLISHED IN BOOK FORM.

THERE WAS. IT WAS AN INTERESTING PROCESS. WHEN THE MANU THE SCRIPT WAS BOUGHT, I THINK THERE WERE A COUPLE STORIES IN THERE THAT WERE PART OF THE ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT THAT WHEN I GOT BACK I LOOKED AT THE PAGES AND JUST THOUGHT THIS IS REALLY, REALLY AWFUL. THERE'S NO WAY THAT THIS DESERVES TO BE BETWEEN HARD COVER. SO, I THREW OUT A COUPLE OF STORIES. THEN ANOTHER -- I CAN EVEN REMEMBER. MAYBE FOUR OR FIVE OF THEM, I JUST DID REALLY RADICAL REVISIONS, WHERE I WOULD SWITCH NARRATIVE PERSPECTIVES. STORY THAT WAS BEING TOLD PR THE POINT OF VIEW OF ONE CHARACTER I WOULD TELL FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF ANOTHER. I WOULD TAKE A STORY THAT WAS IN THE FIRST PERSON, THE I DID THIS THING, AND THEN TURN IT INTO A THIRD PERSON PIECE OP LOT OF JUST RADICAL, RADICAL RESTRUCTURING BEFORE I FELT COMFORTABLE WITH THE STORIES.

IN A WAY, ALMOST NEW STORIES.

SOME OF THEM ARE, YEAH, YEAH. THERE ARE A FEW STORIES THAT HAVE ALREADY BEEN PUBLISHED THAT I DID SUCH DRASTIC REVISIONS TO. IT WAS OKAY TO SEND THEM OUT AN PUBLISH THEM AS NEW PIECES.

GIVE US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT YOUR BACKGROUND. HOW DID YOU START AS A WRITER. HOW DID YOU GET INTO SHORT STORY WRITING?

I THINK I HAD LITERARY AMBITIONS AS EARLY AS THE FIRST GRADE. I WROTE A COUPLE OF PLAYS THAT HAVE NOT ENDURED FROM FIRST GRADE.

WE'RE NOT GONNA SEE THEM OFF BROADWAY?

NO, NO. I THINK THOSE ARE DONE. I ALWAYS HAD A REAL APPETITE FOR LANGUAGE AND FOR STORY. I OWE THAT TO MY MOTHER WHO IS A CLASSICIST AND INTO GREEK AND ROMAN MYTHOLOGY. I GREW UP ON A DIET OF THAT. VERY EARLY IN LIFE I LOVED STORY TELLING. I SORT OF WORKED MY WAY AROUND TO SHORT FICTION, I GUESS, JUST AS THE BEGINNERS FORM. YOU KNOW, SITTING DOWN TO TRY TO WRITE A NOVEL OUT OF THE GATE DIDN'T SEEM RIGHT. THE SHORT STORY IS A NICE FORM TO TRY DIFFERENT NARRATIVE APPROACHES. I THINK IN THE BOOK, I REALLY LOOK AT IT AS KIND OF AN APPRENTICESHIP. THERE ARE A BUNCH OF DIFFERENT WAYS TO SKIN A CAT IN THERE. THERE ARE SOME STORIES TRYING TO SUCCEED ON HUMOR AND OTHERS TRYING TO DO THINGS WITH LANGUAGE. OTHERS GOING STRAIGHT TO SORT OF A MORE ERNEST EMOTIONAL CORE. LOT OF DIFFERENT STUFF.

IT IS. I DIDN'T NOTICE A THEME. MAYBE IT'S ME. THERE WASN'T ANY KIND OF UNIFYING THEME OTHER THAN THEY WERE WRITTEN BY WELLS TOWER.

I THINK THE THEME IS THE FIRST SHORT STORIES THAT -- FIRST NONSHORT STORIES THAT I WROTE IN MY CAREER THAT DIDN'T FILL ME WITH COLD, NAUSEA AND DREAD WHEN I LOOKED AT THEM AGAIN. THAT'S REALLY IT. AND WE HEAR A LOT ABOUT HOW, IF YOU'RE GONNA PUBLISH A SHORT STORY COLLECTION, THEY NEED TO BE LINKED STORIES. THERE NEEDS TO BE A FOCUS TO THEM. FOR THOSE REASONS I WAS PREPARED FOR THIS COLLECTION TO KIND OF BE A CRITICAL DISASTER. IT JUST SORT OF DIDN'T SEEM TO DO THE THINGS THAT SHORT STORY COLLECTIONS ARE SUPPOSED TO DO ACCORDING TO THE RULES OF TODAY'S MARKET.

SO YOU'VE BEEN SURPRISED.

I HAVE BEEN VERY SURPRISED.

YOU MENTIONED YOUR MOTHER. WAS SHE A WRITER? OR YOUR FATHER?

I GREW UP IN A PRETTY LITERARY HOUSE HOLD. MY MOTHER IS A LATIN TEACHER AT A LOCAL HIGH SCHOOL IN CHAPEL HILL, NORTH CAROLINA. MY FATHER IS AN ECONOMICS PROFESSOR AT DUKE 37 THEY WERE PEOPLE WLOEFSHED LITERATURE AN LOVED LANGUAGE AND MADE IT A POINT TO READ TO ME FROM AN EARLY AGE. SOLD ME ON GOOD STUFF WHEN I WAS YOUNG.

HOW DID YOU GET INTO THE BUSINESS? YOU ARE A FULL-TIME WRITER. YOU DON'T TEACH ON THE SIDE.

THIS IS WHAT I DO. I REALLY CAME AT IT IN A WEIRD WAY. AFTER I GRADUATED FROM COLLEGE I KIND OF BOUNCED AROUND AND WORKED A FEW AWFUL JOBS DOING DATA ENTRY AND HEAVY LIFTING AND ALL SORTS OF TERRIBLE THINGS.

LITERALLY HEAVY LIFTING.

SOME WAREHOUSE GIGS OUT IN PORTLAND, OREGON, WHERE LIVED RIGHT AFTER COLLEGE. THEN I WENT BACK TO NORTH CAROLINA AND REALLY WAS VERY EAGER TO FIND ANY KIND OF JOB WHERE I COULD JUST USE LANGUAGE PM. IF I HAD A JOB DOING IN HOUSE NEWS LETTER AT A TOOTHPASTE FACTORY, THAT WAS SORT OF A DREAM AT THAT POINT.

JUST WANTED TO PLAY WITH WORDS.

ANYTHING WHERE I GOT TO WRITE SENTENCES. MY FIRST ENTRE TO LEGITIMATE PUBLISHING STUFF WAS, I GOT A JOB AS THE NIGHT WATCH MAN OR NIGHT MANAGER AT THE CENTER FOR DOCUMENTARY STUDIES AT DUKE UNIVERSITY. AT THE TIME THEY WERE PUBLISHING THIS MAGAZINE "DOUBLE TAKE" A BEAUTIFUL DOCUMENTARY.

BEAUTIFULLY PHOTOGRAPHED AND WELL WRITTEN. IT'S NOT WITH US ANYMORE, RIGHT?

NO. I THINK IT'S FINALLY BITTEN THE DUST. GREAT SHAME. BUT, SO I GOT A JOB JUST SORT OF LOCKING UP OVER THERE AND WATERING THE PLANTINGS AND THAT STUFF. I MANAGED TO ULTIMATELY WORK MY WAY INTO RUNNING THEIR WEBSITE AND DOING A LITTLE BIT OF EDITORIAL STUFF THERE. AND THEN AFTER THE MAGAZINE HAD ITS FUNDING PULLED BY DUKE, THE STAFF KIND OF SCATTERED TO THE FOUR WINDS. MY EDITOR AT THE MAGAZINE WENT ON TO "THE WASHINGTON POST MAGAZINE" AND THEN WHEN I DECIDED I WAS GOING TO TRY TO MAKE A GO INTO WRITING, I PITCHED A STORY TO HIM WHERE I GOT A JOB IN A TRAVELING CARNIVAL. HE TOOK THAT STORY. THAT WAS MY MAJOR THEME PIECE.

JOURNALISM. LOT OF IT.

I DO A FAIR AMOUNT, YEAH.

YOU DID ONE OF THE EARLY IVERY BILLED WOOD PEPPER DISCOVERY STORIES.

I DID.

ABOUT FIVE YEARS AGO.

I CAME, I THINK I MADE TWO TRIPS OUT TO BRINKLEY FOR THAT STORY.

WE HAVEN'T SEEN IT AGAIN.

NO. I KNOW. I WAS A TRUE BELIEVER. NOW I CAN TELL YOU THE SKEPTICS HAVE KIND OF COME OUT OF THE WOODWORK AND SAID IT WAS A THING. I LIKE TO BELIEVE THE IVORY BILL IS OUT THERE IN THE WOODS.

LET'S TALK ABOUT YOUR SHORT STORIES. THE WORDS THAT SEEM TO BE USED THE MOST TO DESCRIBE THEM ARE STRANGE, DISTURBING, DARK A LITTLE BIT, BUT ALSO FUNNY. I DEFINITELY SEE THE STRANGE AND DISTURBING. ARE THOSE APT DESCRIPTIONS? HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE THE STORIES IN GENERAL?

I DON'T KNOW. I SUPPOSE THEY ARE STRANGE, THOUGH I DIDN'T SIT DOWN TO WRITE A DELIBERATELY BATCH OF SHORT STORIES. I THINK FOR ME TO FEEL LIKE I'M CAPABLE OF WRITING A STORY, I REALLY FEEL AS IF THE STORY HAS TO TAKE ITS OWN PLACE AND SORT OF, YOU KNOW, SNATCH ITS EXISTENCE OUT OF THE VOID, CARVE ITS OWN VERY SPECIFIC KIND OF ENVIRONMENT. SO I SUPPOSE IF THEY FEEL ODD OR, YOU KNOW, IF THEY'RE DEALING WITH SORT OF SUBJECT MATTER, FOR ME IT'S JUST, AS A WRITER, I FEEL I NEED TO BE WRITING ABOUT SOMETHING THAT'S UNFAMILIAR TO ME OR SOMETHING I'M KIND OF INVENTING.

DO YOU KNOW WHERE YOU'RE GOING WHEN YOU SIT DOWN TO WRITE IT? EVEN AS A JOURNALIST I'M NOT SURE WHERE A STORY IS GONNA TAKE ME.

SURE.

OR DO YOU HAVE AN IDEA, THIS IS GOING TO BE THE PLOT OR DOES IT JUST HAPPEN?

IT'S A TOUGH -- SOMETHING I'M STILL TRYING TO FIGURE OUT. I HAVE GONE AT IT IN BOTH WAYS. I THINK THAT WHEN YOU PLOT IT UP TOO MUCH, THERE'S A REAL DANGER THAT, YOU KNOW, YOU GET TOO DELIBERATE AND TOO CAREFUL IN THE WAY YOU PUT A STORY TOGETHER. I THINK THE MOST SUCCESSFUL STORIES ARE THE ONE WHERE YOU START WITH A VERY SMALL IDEA, MAYBE A SENTENCE OR A SCENE OR DESCRIPTION AND YOU TRY TO LET THAT -- WHATEVER THE SORT OF INITIAL MOMENTUM IS THAT INTRIGUES YOU ABOUT APPROACHING YOUR STORY. YOU TRY TO LET THAT PULL YOU INTO THE BIGGER PLACE. I THINK WHEN YOU HAVE TOO MUCH CONTROL ON THE FRONT END YOU CAN WIND UP WITH SOMETHING KIND OF STERILE AND A FAILURE.

YOU MENTIONED IN ONE CASE YOU CHANGED THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE CHARACTER, I THINK THE STORY CALLED "RETREAT." "ABOUT TWO BROTHERS, ONE IS FAIRLY SUCCESSFUL AND HAS DECIDED TO OPEN THIS RETREAT." WHERE IS IT?

IN MAINE.

AND THIS OTHER BROTHER WHO WAS KIND OF A FAILED MUSICIAN TO COME UP. ORIGINALLY IT WAS FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE YOUNGER BROTHER, WHO IS THE MUSICIAN. NOW IT'S THE OLDER BROTHER.

SURE.

I HAVE NEVER HEARD OF THAT BEFORE. THAT'S A DIFFERENT TAKE ON A REVISION. HOW DO YOU DO THAT? DID IT CHANGE THE STORY DRASTICALLY?

I THINK IT DID. THAT STORY IS ABOUT A GUY WHO SORT OF APPROPRIATELY IS A FAILED REAL ESTATE DEVELOPER. A GUY WHO HAD BEEN VERY WEALTHY AT ONE POINT. HE HAD A FEW INVESTMENTS GO WRONG. SO HIS -- LAST RESORT MOVE WAS TO BUY THIS PIECE OF PROPERTY UP IN MAINE, GO UP THERE. HE'S TRYING TO DEVELOP IT. HE'S SORT OF IN HOT WATER. AND THAT GUY, YOU KNOW, HE'S VERY SURE OF HIMSELF. HE'S A LITTLE BIT OF A BLOW HARD. AND SO IN THE FIRST STORY, THE YOUNGER BROTHER SHOWS UP AND HE'S DEALING WITH HIS SORT OF OVERBLOWN BLUSTERY KIND OF OBNOXIOUS OLDER BROTHER. AND WHEN I SAT DOWN TO READ IT AFTER THE MANUSCRIPT HAD GONE THROUGH ITS INITIAL EDITS, I THOUGHT HERE'S SORT OF A SNASHGY NARRATOR WHO OBJECTS TO HIS OLDER BROTHER. HAS ALL THESE PROBLEMS WITH HIM. AND JUST SORT OF RIDICULES HIM THROUGHOUT. IT'S NOT ALL THAT INTERESTING. I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE MUCH MORE INTERESTING STORY TO TELL IT FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF THE CHARACTER WHO SORT OF HAD VERY LITTLE SYMPATHY ON HIS SIDE. TO TELL IT FROM THE POINT OF VIEW OF A LESS SYMPATHETIC CHARACTER. TO ME IT SEEMED LIKE A MUCH MORE MORALLY COMPLEX PER SPEBIVE TO TELL THE STORY FROM.

THERE'S A VERSION OUT THERE OF THE ORIGINAL RETREAT. THAT ONE RAN IN THE MCSWEENEY'S?

MY PUBLISHER PUBLISHED A LITTLE KIND OF CHAT BOOK WITH BOTH VERGES OF THE STORY. THEN A LITTLE ESSAY. IT'S EVERYTHING RAVAGED EVERYTHING BURNED BY WELLS TOWER. WE'RE AT THE LITERARY FESTIVAL WHERE WELLS IS ON THE PROGRAM AND VISITING WITH US. YOUR FIRST BOOK, AT ONE POINT YOU SAID YOU WERE WORKING ON A NOVEL, OR YOU'RE GETTING READY TO CRANK IT BACK UP?

THAT'S THE NEXT PHASE. I'M UNDER CONTRACT FOR ONE. AND, YEAH, IT'S SOMETHING I HAVE BEEN TOYING WITH OVER THE YEARS. I'M LOOKING FOR SOME UNBROKEN TIME TO SIT DOWN AND GET INTO IT.

CAN YOU GIVE US AN IDEA WHAT IT WILL BE ABOUT?

IT WILL BE A BIG FAMILY NOVEL. A BIG NOVEL NOVEL.

FAMILY. THAT WOULD HAVE BEEN A THEME FOR THIS BOOK. YOU HAD BROTHERS AND WAYWARD HUSBANDS.

YEAH.

FATHERS AND SONS. I GUESS YOU COULD DO THAT. YOU DID THE VIKING STORY. VERY FAMILY ORIENTED.

ABSOLUTELY. I THINK THAT MOST -- I DON'T KNOW MANY BOOKS THAT DON'T TAKE UP FAMILY AND PREOCCUPATION. IT'S WHERE WE COME FROM.

WE CAN ALL RELATE TO IT.

YEAH. I THINK MOST OF OUR JOYS AND ANXIETIES AND ALL OF IT CAN BE TRACED BACK TO PEOPLE THAT WE'RE RELATED TO AND THE PEOPLE WE GET OURSELVES INVOLVED WITH.

LET'S TALK ABOUT THE VIKINGS STORY, WHICH IS GETTING A LOT OF PRESS. IT'S THE TITLE STORY TO THE BOOK THE LAST ONE IN THE COLLECTION, BUT SAVE IT FOR LAST. IT'S GREAT. TOTALLY DIFFERENT FROM THE OTHER ONES. I THINK IT'S HILARIOUS. IT COULD HAVE BEEN A SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE SKIT. MUCH MORE ELEMENT. BUT YOU HAVE THESE VIKINGS WHO ARE KIND OF BURNED OUT. THEY'VE BEEN DOING THE BLAZING VILLAGE SCENE FOR AWHILE. THEY'VE GOT ONE LAST EXCURSION TO GO ON. IT HAS THIS ELEMENT TO IT OF VERY 21ST CENTURY LAID BACK MIDDLE AGE.

SURE, SURE.

WHERE DID THAT PIECE COME FROM?

IT WAS A FUNNY STORY FOR ME. I SUPPOSE IT CAME OUT OF A KIND OF A FATIGUE WITH WRITING MORE ERNEST STORIES, WHERE I WAS REALLY GOING FOR REALISM. I HAD BEEN DOING THAT FOR, I DON'T KNOW, MAYBE A YEAR OR SO. PRETTY EARLY STORY FROM THE VIKING ONE. I HAD BEEN TALKING WITH A FRIEND OF MINE. THERE'S A REALLY HORRIBLE THING THAT HAPPENS IN THE STORY, THIS ACT OF VIOLENCE, THE BLOOD EAGLE, WHICH IS TOO GRUESOME TO DESCRIBE. IT WAS AN ACTUAL VIKING THING. IT'S THIS GROSS PROCEDURE VIKINGS WOULD DO TO THEIR VICTIMS. I WAS TALKING TO A FRIEND OF MINE ABOUT IT. WE WERE SAYING, IF YOU WERE VIKINGS, WOULD YOU EVER HAVE THE TIME TO DO THIS? I'M WAY TOO LAZY. IT TAKES A LOT OF WORK. WE WERE SAYING WE'D JUST SAY MAN LET'S JUST SKIP THE BLOOD EAGLE AND GO HAVE A BEER SOMEWHERE. SO THIS IDEA OCCURRED TO ME TO TRY TO WRITE KIND OF A GAG STORY AND ACTUALLY DO A BLUE COLLAR GRITTY REALIST KIND OF SHORT STORY REICH A RAYMON CARVER STORY OR RICHARD FORD STORY. JUST TO HAVE FUN WITH THAT KIND OF -- THAT SORT OF MACHO LITERARY CONCEDE AND THESE DOWN TRODDEN GUYS.

HAS A REAL SWEET FAMILY ELEMENT TO IT.

THAT, FOR ME, WAS THE GRATIFYING THING ABOUT IT. WITH A SHORT STORY, YOU'RE TRYING TO WILL YOURSELF INTO THIS STATE OF HYPNOSIS WHERE YOU BELIEVE IN THE WORLD YOU'RE THINKING UP. THE STORY THAT IT STARTED FOR ME, MAYBE A CYNICAL JOKE, WOUND UP DRAWING ME INTO THIS MUCH BIGGER, MUCH MORE TENDER SPACE.

YEAH.

I WISH THAT COULD HAPPEN WITH EVERY STORY. IT'S NICE WHEN YOU KIND OF LOSE CONTROL OF YOUR INTENTION A LITTLE BIT.

WHEN YOU CHOSE THE STORIES AND WE WERE SPEAKING WITH YOUR EDITOR, DID THEY KNOW YOU WERE GONNA REVISE THEM SO MUCH? WAS THERE A DISPUTE ABOUT THAT?

THEY WERE VERY PATIENT. I THINK BY THE END, I WAS STARTING TO MAYBE SCARE THEM A LITTLE BIT. JUST BECAUSE I COULDN'T STOP REVISING. I THINK I GOT INTO A PLACE WHERE I WAS REVISING LESS OUT OF ANY KIND OF SANE EDITORIAL INTELLIGENCE AND MORE -- JUST THIS SORT OF FRENZY IMPULSE TO WANT TO BE A BETTER WRITER THAN I AM. JUST TO SORT OF, YOU KNOW, DO AS MUCH AS I POSSIBLY COULD WITH THE STORIES. AND ALSO NOT FEELING COP FORTABLE YET THAT THEY WOULD EVER BE RESOLVED TO A FINAL DRAFT THAT I HAD TO BE COMMITTED TO.

SOME OF THESE DATE BACK EIGHT YEARS. I'LL LOOK AT SOME OF MY STUFF, THAT'S NOT IN THIS LEAGUE BUT SAY LOT OF TIMES I'LL THINK, WHAT WAS I THINKING. IT HAS HOLES ALL IN IT. IT'S HORRIBLE.

SURE.

THAT MUST HAVE BEEN AN INTERESTING EXPERIENCE. TO LOOK BACK AT YOURSELF.

THAT WAS INTRIGUING. IT WAS -- IT ACTUALLY TOOK ME A WHILE BEFORE I COULD EVEN LOOK AT THE PAIJS WHEN THEY'D COME BACK FROM THE EDITOR. I HADDEN EVEN READ THOSE OLD STORIES WHEN MY AGENT SENT THEM OUT, PUBLISHERS. I WAS SO AFRAID THAT I WAS GOING TO BE DISGUSTED BY THE EARLY WORK THAT IT TOOK ME A WHILE TO CRACK INTO IT. IT'S INTERESTING LOOKING BACK AT THOSE EARLY STORIES. I FOUND THERE WAS SOMETHING BRAVE AND SIMPLE IN THE WAY THAT I HAD APPROACHED THOSE STORIES. I THINK FICTION IS A REAL HIGH WIRE ACT. SOON AS YOU LOOK DOWN AND YOU ARE AWARE OF THE RISKS IN MAKING UP YOUR OWN LITTLE WORLD AND SOME CHARACTERS AND HOW BADLY IT CAN FAIL, THEN YOU GET AFRAID. YOU CAN OFTEN GET BLOCKED. WHEN I FIRST STARTED WRITING, I WASN'T REALLY AWARE OF ALL THE PERILS.

TOO YOUNG TO KNOW ANY BETTER.

SURE THERE WERE SOME CLUMSY THINGS IN THE EARLY STORIES, BUT THERE WAS ALSO KIND OF A BRAVENESS ABOUT THEM THAT I HAVE KIND OF ADMIRED AND WOULD LIKE TO WORK BACK TO.

YOU TOLD ME ON THE PHONE EARLIER COUPLE OF THE STORIES WERE UNCLIS IT. YOU SENT THEM TO PARISH REVIEW FOR THEIR SLUSH PILE. THEY ACCEPTED BOTH. AND YOU HAD A CONVERSATION WITH GEORGE CLEMSON. TELL ME A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT. HOW OLD WERE YOU AT THE TIME?

MAYBE 27 OR SO. 27, 28. THOSE WERE REALLY THE FIRST TWO SHORT STORIES THAT I WROTE.

ARE THEY IN THE BOOK?

THEY ARE. THE BROWN COAST AND DOWN THROUGH THE VALLEY. AND I JUST SORT OF SENT THEM OUT THINKING THAT I'D NEVER HEAR BACK. AND I GOT A FEW REJECTIONS. I DON'T KNOW. MAYBE FOUR, FIVE MONTHS LATER I GOT THIS CALL FROM THE PARISH REVIEW. THEY SAID THEY LIKED THE STORIES. WE WENT OVER SOME PRELIMINARIES ABOUT WHEN IT WAS GOING TO GET PUBLISHED. NOW WE'RE GONNA PATCH YOU THROUGH TO GEORGE. HE'S GOT SOME COMMENTS. I THOUGHT NOT GEORGE PLIMPTON. THIS IS A GUY THAT I HAD READ AND ADMIRED. I HAVE DONE A LITTLE BIT OF JOURNALISM.

DIDN'T THAT INSPIRE YOUR STORY INITIALLY?

YEAH, YEAH. ABSOLUTELY.

SUBMERGES JOURNALISM. DOING IT 20, 30 YEARS AGO.

HE WAS ON MY SHORT LIST OF I DON'T KNOW FIVE OR SIX WRITERS WHO I MOST ADMIRED. SO I GOT PUT ON THE PHONE WITH HIM. HE WENT THROUGH THE STORY, READ IT VERY CLOSELY AND REALLY WAS WANTING TO TALK ABOUT HOW TO RESTRUCTURE METAPHORS.

SO HE HAD HIS HANDS IN THERE.

HE DID. IT ASTONISHED ME. I HAD NO IDEA THAT HE WAS ENGAGED THAT WAY. ESPECIALLY WITH THE WORK OF COMPLETELY UNKNOWN WRITERS. THAT WAS A REAL GREAT MOMENT FOR ME.

LET'S TALK ABOUT THE SHORT STORY. THERE'S BEEN SOME TALK MAINLY BECAUSE OF YOUR BOOK, THAT THERE'S A SHORT STORY RENAISSANCE THAT WE HAD THE BIOGRAPHY OF JOHN CHEEVER, FLANNERY O' CONNOR. THE IDEA THAT THERE'S A REVIVAL OF THE SHORT STORY. THAT PEOPLE ARE GETTING MORE INTERESTED OR GETTING BACK TO THE SHORT STORY INSTEAD OF THE NOVEL. WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THAT?

YOU WOULD HAVE TO POSE THAT QUESTION TO SOMEBODY WHO HASN'T BEEN READING SHORT STORIES ALL ALONG. FOR ME, I HAVE ALWAYS LOVED THE FORM. I FIND IT SO CHALLENGING AND RIGOROUS AND WONDERFUL. I HAVE BEEN READING THEM EVER SINCE I STARTED READING. I'D CERTAINLY HOPE THERE'S A REVIVAL. I THINK IT'S A GREAT FORUM. IN A LOT OF WAYS, I THINK THE AMERICAN LITERARY TRADITION HAS CONTRIBUTED A GREAT DEAL TO THE SHORT STORY. I THINK SOME OF OUR SHORT STORY WRITERS, RICHARD YATES, JOHN CHEEVER, SCOTT FITZGERALD SHORT FICTION, RAYMOND CARVER. I THINK WE'VE DONE PHENOMENAL THINGS WITH THE SHORT STORY. I WISH MORE OF US WOULD TAKE IT UP AND BE PROUD OF OUR TRADITION.

WERE THOSE SOME INFLUENCES OR SOME --

SURE. ABSOLUTELY.

CHEEVER AND YATES.

YES. IT'S GREAT TO SEE PEOPLE READING CHEEVER AGAIN AND YATES GETTING A LITTLE BUMP AGAIN.

WE WERE TALKING EARLIER ABOUT SOME OF THE NONFICTION YOU'VE DONE. YOU WITH A JOURNALIST WROTE FOR HARVARD POST, OXFORD AMERICAN HERE IN ARKANSAS. GARDEN AND GUN. A VARIETY. OUTSIDE MAGAZINE. SO YOU DO BOTH. WHAT -- WHICH DO YOU LIKE BETTER? HOW DOES IT COMPARE WORKING ON FICTION AND NONFICTION?

THERE ARE TWO VERY DIFFERENT ANIMALS. I THINK NONFICTION, I THINK IT'S A MUCH LESS FRAUGHT MEDIUM FOR ME. IT'S DIFFICULT. BUT THE PROCESS IS FAIRLY SIMPLE. YOU GO OUT AND DO SOME REPORTING AND JOT A FEW THINGS IN YOUR NOTEBOOK AND DO A FEW INTERVIEWS AND LOOK AT WHAT YOU GOT. YOU TYPE IT UP IN THE SCENES. YOU STRING THEM TOGETHER. BANG, YOU'VE GOT A MAGAZINE PIECE.

HOPEFULLY THE EDITOR LIKES IT.

AND YOU'VE GOT THE EDITOR LOOKING OVER YOUR SHOULDER. ONCE YOUR EDITOR IS SATISFIED, YOU'RE OFF THE CLOCK. WITH FICTION, IT'S SO MUCH MORE DIFFICULT THAT IT'S -- NONFICTION YOU KIND OF CAN COLDLY ASSEMBLE A STRING OF DIFFERENT SCENES AND ELEMENTS AND THEN YOU'VE GOT A MAGAZINE STORY. WITH FICTION, I THINK IT ALL HAS TO BE BORN OF A UNIFIED INTENTION. I THINK THERE'S SOMETHING MUCH SUPPLER AND MORE ORGANIC ABOUT THE WAY A PIECE OF FICTION HAS TO BUILD AND CLAIM ITS SPACE AND CONCLUDE THAT IT'S JUST A MUCH -- IT'S A MUCH MORE FICKLE DELICATE CREATURE TO BRING INTO THE WORLD.

HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE A SHORT STORY? DOES THAT VARY?

IT'S GETTING LONGER AND LONGER. WHEN I FIRST STARTED WRITING I COULD WRITE A SHORT STORY IN EIGHT DAYS. NOW IT MIGHT TAKE ME SIX MONTHS TO WRITE A SHORT STORY. I DON'T KNOW WHY THAT IS. MAYBE IT'S THE WILE E.COYOTE THING.

DO YOU SEE A.IN YOUR CAREER WHERE YOU ARE JUST DOING THE FICTIONS, NOVEL WRITING AND GIVING UP THE NONFICTION OR DO YOU THINK YOU'LL DO BOTH?

I'D HATE TO GIVE UP THE NONFICTION. THERE'S SOMETHING WONDERFUL ABOUT BEING ABLE TO PARACHUTE INTO OTHER PEOPLE'S LIVES AND SPEND TIME WITH THEM. REALLY TRY TO GET INSIDE THEIR HEADS.

IT IS KIND OF A PRIVILEGE, ISN'T IT?

IT'S A TERRIFIC PRIVILEGE.

IF YOU WOULD, BEFORE WE FINISH OFF, WOULD YOU READ A PASSAGE FROM YOUR BOOK?

SURE. I'D BE GLAD TO.

BEFORE WE CAME ON AIR I INSISTED ON THE VIKING STORY, WHICH IS GREAT.

SURE. LET ME DIG THIS UP. SO THIS IS THE FINE PARAGRAPH OF THIS VIKING STORY WE'VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT. WHAT'S HAPPENING HERE, THESE GUYS WHO HAVE GONE OUT AND DONE SOME TERRIBLE RAIDING OVER THE STORY FINALLY GOTTEN BACK TO THEIR HOME LAND WHERE THEY'RE ALL SETTLING INTO A MORE DOMESTIC SITUATION. THE NARRATOR, WHO COMMITTED SOME AWFUL VIOLENCES IN THE PRECEDING PAGES IS NOW STARTING A FAMILY AND DEALING WITH THAT. THIS IS THE FINE PARAGRAPH OF "EVERYTHING RAVAGED EVERYTHING BURNED." "AFTER WE HAD OUR LITTLE TWINS AND PUT A FAMILY TOGETHER, I GOT AN UNDERSTANDING OF HOW TERRIBLE LOVE CAN BE, YOU WISH YOU HATED THOSE PEOPLE, YOUR WIFE AND CHILDREN BECAUSE YOU KNOW THE THINGS THE WORLD WILL DO TO THEM BECAUSE YOU HAD DONE SOME OF THOSE THINGS YOURSELF." IT'S CRAZY MAKING YET YOU CLING TO THEM WITH EVERYTHING AND CLOSE YOUR EYES AGAINST THE REST OF IT. BUT STILL YOU WAKE UP LATE AT NIGHT AND LIE THERE LISTENING FOR THE CREEK AND SPLASH OF THE OARS, THE CLANK OF STEEL, THE SOUNDS OF MEN ROWING TOWARDS YOUR HOME.

THAT'S NOT A BAD SUMMATION OF THE WHOLE COLLECTION.

IT'S NOT. THAT'S WHY IT SEEMED LIKE A GOOD NOTE TO GO ON. SORT OF THIS EMBATTLED QUEST FOR SAFE HARBOR.

WELLS, THANKS A LOT FOR TAKING YOUR TIME. CONGRATULATIONS ON THE BOOK. IT'S DOING GREAT. HOPEFULLY WE'LL SEE MORE FROM YOU IN THE FUTURE. WELLS TOWER. THE BOOK IS EVERYTHING RAFSH AVERAGED, EVERYTHING BURNED. FIRST COLLECTION OF STORIES. I HAVE A FEELING IT WON'T BE THE LAST.

THANKS.

THANK YOU.

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