Interviewed by David Blanton
You mentioned that many of your stories take place in Miami. What about that city inspires your fiction?
Miami is a true international city—probably what the future looks like—and as far as I can tell, all these people, from all these different places, barely interact. Sure, they cross paths on the highway and see each other in the supermarket, but true interaction, what good fiction is made of, is rare. People are disconnected due to massive differences in culture, class, neighborhood affiliation, language, etc., so when they are forced to interact, chaos usually ensues, and Miami/South Florida, probably rightfully so, gets a bad rap. Think: Elian Gonzalez. The 2000 election.
As a writer, this particular brand of disconnection and isolation, which is probably the norm in any major American city, interests me. How do people communicate when the last thing they want to do is communicate? What happens when they finally try to communicate, and it’s still hopeless, since they don’t even speak the same language?
There’s a moment in “Eggs” I really like when the narrator notices a well-groomed baseball diamond in a wealthy neighborhood, and he has the urge to run and dive into second base. You were a promising baseball player yourself. Do you think athletic competition and writing have anything interesting in common?
Sports and writing have a lot more in common than people might think. Athletes, like writers, share many of the same personality traits, particularly a penchant for obession. Talent aside, a professional athlete needs to be obsessed in order to achieve any kind of success. They wake up every day and do the same thing over and over again, which would probably drive the average person insane. There are stories of Michael Jordan waking up at dawn after a fifty-point performance just to get some extra practice in, when he obviously didn’t need it. Brett Favre has retired and unretired, and then retired again, only to retire once more, presumably because he can’t leave the game behind. He needs to throw the football probably in the same way that Joyce Carol Oates needs to write.
The acceptance of failure, or a willingness to deal with and overcome it, also links writers and athletes. I played baseball for almost fifteen years, which means that even as a pretty good player, I still struck out hundreds of times in my career. This barrage of failure is only comparable to the deluge of rejection letters that most writers encounter when they start out. Striking out, as far as I see it, was the beginning of my literary training.
Can you remember a particular experience or book that made you want to become a writer?
I read Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth when I first got into the writing game, and realized almost immediately that I wanted to try my hand at it. He’s able to write realistic stories that aren’t constrained by the pitfalls of “reality.” It’s fiction, and he treats it as such, which makes the stories that much more human. That hyper-reality, or whatever it is, was a revelation.
Do you consider yourself an “autobiographical” writer?
The stories always come from a feeling or a state of mind that is real, but the plots are fiction. I don’t think you can ever trust real life, since real life, unlike fiction, has no rhyme or reason. In life, things happen, then nothing happens for years, and then something might happen again for an unrelated reason. In fiction, events are sequenced in the order that best serves the story, which is the last thing that seems to happen in life. So, I guess, it’s about making this artifice seem as “real or “true” or as possible. I’ve never once experienced something and said, “Oh, this is the rising action. I’m rising.” But as writers, we organize stories artificially because it’s the only way we can manipulate feelings and emotions, which is what this is all about.
What is it about young manhood that interests you as a subject for fiction?
Young men are crazy. The world is crazy. It seems that young men, more than any other group, lash out against the world’s craziness. And then even crazier stuff happens.
Have you been reading anything good lately?
I’ve been reading a lot of plays, especially stuff by Sam Shepard and Harold Pinter. Good drama can’t ever be boring, since a live audience will respond accordingly if it is, which means that plays are all scene all the time. A good play is the best scenes in the best order, just like the best stories, but I think playwrights focus on this more than short story writers. As a reader, I like stories in which every scene, on their own, entertain and resonate on some emotional level. This is probably a long-winded way to say that plot is important.
What are you writing now?
I’m currently finishing up a collection of short stories that take place in Miami and beginning work on a novel.
Alex Perez’s story “Eggs” appears in Subtropics 10.