Following in the steps of Richard Ford and Annie Proulx, Wink is the American West’s newest star storyteller.
Shelf Unbound: The title story, “Dog Run Moon,” was published by the New Yorker when you were at the University of Wyoming working on your MFA. Did this early accolade make you more serious about writing or were you already fully committed to it?
Callan Wink: Getting that first story in the New Yorker was definitely a big deal in my life. I’m not sure that it made me any more serious about writing, but all of a sudden people wanted to see more of my work, and so I did feel some pressure to produce. I think before going to Wyoming to get my MFA I was more inclined to only write when I felt like I had something good to say. Spending two years with writing as the main focus made me take the whole endeavor a little more seriously, more so, I think, than the New Yorker acceptance. I was around other writers for the first time and I came to understand that part of the job is doing it when you don’t feel inspired. Getting words on paper is the important part. At least for me, inspirations are few and far between.
Shelf Unbound: Running figures into these stories, such as Sid running from men chasing him on an ATV because he stole a dog or Dale running daily as an escape. You are a long-distance trail runner and racer. What interests you about incorporating running into your stories?
Wink: I do enjoy running. It’s an activity that reminds me of writing—often not especially pleasurable during the actual act of doing it, but usually worth the discomfort when it’s over for the day. Over the years running has allowed me to think about writing in a productive way. A while ago someone asked me if I meditate, and I don’t, but I think running produces some of that same effect. It occupies your body in such a way that your mind allows itself to roam. Kind of a disassociation, I guess. Like that moment right before you fall asleep. I always get ideas at that point and I have to roll over in bed to write them down. When everything is going well running has that same effect.
Shelf Unbound: You spend your summers on the Yellowstone River as a fishing guide and recently wrote in Men’s Journal about fishing with the late writer Jim Harrison. Other than writing and fishing, did you have anything in common with him?
Wink: Jim was pretty much one of a kind but we did both grow up in Michigan. His family farm was less than a half hour’s drive from where I was born and raised. So, I guess that made us both Midwesterners of the Garrison Keillor, Prairie Home Companion variety. Other than that, we shared a common love of dogs, held the aesthetic particulars of the female form in high esteem, and enjoyed the occasional post-fishing bar session. I will definitely miss him and his, sometimes outrageous, presence in my life.
Shelf Unbound: Jim Harrison described your writing as “rich and juicy.” Indeed. Case in point, the last sentence of “Breatharians”: “She held a card in her hand, raised, as if she were deciding her next move but August could see that the cards in front of her were scattered across the table in disarray, a jumbled mess, as if they’d been thrown there.” How do you approach writing a scene like this?
Wink: I’ve always liked that scene myself and I really wish I had a definite approach to creating something like this, because then I could replicate it at will. Unfortunately, it seems that every story is a unique organism that grows and develops in unexpected ways. This is a fairly unsettling feeling because, as a writer, I can never get comfortable or be confident in my own abilities to produce. At this point I’ve written a few decent stories. Will I continue to do so in the future? That remains to be seen.