For this edition of 5 (or so) Questions, I had the pleasure to correspond with Edward Kelsey Moore about his essay, "Piaf and Roadkill" from the current issue. Edward's debut novel, The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat, which will be published in March, is a Summer 2013 Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers selection. He is also a professional cellist, which we talk about a little bit here. Other topics covered: humor, novels, and the trap of worrying about masculinity. An excerpt from "Piaf and Roadkill" appeared on the blog in December, which you can read here. Enjoy!
9L: I loved how the essay is able to deal with some rather big, complicated topics, such as what it may or may not mean to be a “real man” while also maintaining a lot of heart and humor. Was it difficult to find those places in the storyline to contemplate those bigger issues?
Edward Kelsey Moore: No, I wouldn’t say it was difficult. From the beginning, I approached it as an essay about serious issues. But it’s my nature to attempt to work through even the most complicated and unpleasant events of my life with humor. So writing the essay as the tale of a funny and weird thing that happened to me and the story of how I came to more fully understand something about myself was really the only way it occurred to me to write it. Even when the story about the animal, the old car, the local bureaucracy, and me was just an anecdote I laughed about with my friends over cocktails, I thought of it as a comic take on my unease with the topic of my own masculinity and the unexpected return of youthful feelings of inadequacy.
9L: In the essay, you write, “… as soon as I slammed shut the hood of my car, I had been aware that the revulsion I felt was keeping company with shame.” Ryan Van Meter (vol. 8, no. 1) has said, "to write about shame is to look back at the moment of the intensity of that feeling, and to figure out what dynamics were at work underneath the moment that inspired such feeling." I’ve thought about that statement and your essay a lot in terms of my own relationship to masculinity as a gay man and I wondered if writing this essay helped you come to terms with shame or the uneasiness of your masculinity? It also made me wonder why masculinity or the perception of masculinity is really an issue at all?
EKM: I think that whenever you write something about yourself and attempt to make it as true as possible, you are given the opportunity to understand yourself a bit better. So writing the essay was another step in my ongoing journey toward sorting out my feelings about the issue of masculinity.
I am a middle-aged man who left the closet decades ago. I’m also the product of a conservative and deeply religious home. In order to be happy and healthy, I’ve had to think a lot about shame over the years. If anyone had asked me if I had successfully resolved my feelings about masculinity the day before the incident, I’d have answered yes. By the next evening, after I’d written the first draft of the essay, I’d have answered the question differently.
In addition to being total BS, the idea of measuring your masculinity against some arbitrary standard is a trap, especially for gay men. It’s a rigged game specifically designed to result in self-loathing. But it’s hard not to fall into the trap when you’ve been spoon-fed certain stereotypes since infancy. I get the impression that younger men struggle less with this. And I hope that’s the case.
9L: Does being a musician, a cellist, have any influence on the way you write or vice versa?
EKM: I think being a musician has a great deal of influence on the way I write. When I started writing, I found myself creating these wandering, unwieldy stories that fell apart halfway through. Since my musical experience was so much more extensive than my writing experience, I looked to music to give structure to my work. I don’t want to get too music nerd-y about it, but what I did was imagine that I was writing stories in sonata form. It really helped me.
It’s harder to describe the influence writing has on me as a cellist. Mostly, writing makes me centered and happy and that has made everything easier for me, including playing. Of course, I might have a very different take on how writing influences my musical life after my debut novel comes out next month. That “centered and happy” thing might bite the dust.
9L: Congratulations on your debut novel! What are you most excited and/or nervous about concerning its release?
EKM: Thank you. It might be a case of ignorance being bliss, but I’m not terribly nervous. I am excited about every aspect of it, though. One of the nice things about this experience coming later in life for me than it does for most debut novelists is that I haven’t the least desire to affect cool aloofness or to act the role of the tortured artiste. Neither of those things is attractive after 40. I’m just damn happy and eager to see what comes next.
9L: What's the last thing you read that you really loved and couldn't wait to tell people about?
EKM: I really loved Kevin Wilson’s The Family Fang. It’s so many of the things I enjoy in a novel—funny, sad, truly original. I’ve read some fine books over the past several months, but The Family Fang is the one I tell my friends they need to read.