Interview: Dale Herd, Author of Empty Pockets

What’s a typical starting point for you in writing a story, for example Felicia and David visiting a college friend in New York City, and David’s unease with the friend’s homosexual roommate in “The Big Apple”? 

There never is a typical starting point. In this particular story the starting point occurred some years later after the time in which the story is set when the writer’s wife remarked that she was the only woman who ever slept with this man the writer knew.

shelfunbound How do you develop your characters, such as the psychic music composer whose daughter is on trial for murder?

You meet them on the street, and you listen. 

Do you have a favorite story in this book?

daleherd There are no favorites. Each one when you start it you hope will be your favorite and the best one you’ve ever written. Some reach farther than you thought possible when you started, and you find you have had the luck to reach the real story inside of the story you thought you were telling. The Prowler is an example of that, but is no more my favorite than are Rawlins, Captain Baa Baa, Eric, Welfare, Blood, Speed Limit or Beauty, etc. etc. etc. 

How do you find the entry point for your short stories, such as the first line of “Darlene”: “She wanted a bond, not a ring.” 

daleherd You try to cut to the most salient fact about one of your characters, specifically their emotional core,  then let the story unfold from there.

A short story is like  

As a metaphor?  A good short story is a metaphor, a novel distilled down to bedrock. As a simile? A good short story is like an animal running: spontaneous, graceful, and seeming to fly while never losing contact with the ground.

shelfunbound What is the appeal for you of writing short stories?

daleherd The fun of it, the pleasure of it, the desire to see what you can come up with in the shortest amount of space. Often you can’t, and so you go on and on and on, like this sentence, and more often than not you have a bad novella or worse, a bad novel, that no one wants to publish, let alone read.

shelfunbound If you were teaching a course on short story writing, what is the primary piece of advice you would offer?

daleherd You must have the good fortune to find yourself working in a menial job washing dishes and living in a rooming house for three months where you read every single story written by the thirty best short story writers you know. Then copy out in longhand the ones you most admire, slowing your mind down, learning how the past masters have constructed their story. You will learn how high the bar has been set.

shelfunbound What’s a favorite book you read in 2014?

daleherd The Friends of Eddie Coyle, The Collected Stories of Issac Babel.  

shelfunbound Any books you’re particularly looking forward to in 2015?

daleherd The Mad and the Bad by Jean-Patrick Manchette, From
Here to Eternity
, The Alexandria Quartet, and The Sun Also Rises

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