Go Forth (Vol. 31)
An Interview with Dolan Morgan
Where did Dolan Morgan come from? The stories in his first collection—just published by Aforementioned Productions—make you wonder. Here, psyches stretch the dimensions of physical space, and the most intense aspects of relationships (yearning, loss, pursuit) are played out on geographies that may feel like game boards. The weather is alive.
Morgan came from Connecticut. He grew up in a family that was both large and miniscule, in a space that was both rich and poor. He got himself out of high school early, and at age seventeen he headed to New York City and never looked back. He became a full time schoolteacher and quit in his twenties when he realized he was looking at the rest of his life. Now he designs curricula, and writes fiction and poetry. Currently, he’s thinking about hijackings as myths, as well as the literary subgenre that features monster sex.
When the Knives Come Down also happens to be the first full-length, one-author work to come from Aforementioned Productions. Since 2005 they’ve been publishing work online, in chapbooks, and in an annual print journal. This is a glorious debut for both parties.
I. JEFF GOLDBLUM OFTEN FAILS
NELLY REIFLER: So, my first question is about your sense of That’s When the Knives Come Down as a whole. Each story has its own, complete world, and the characters and their experiences feel completely organic within those specific worlds. For me, the contrasts and echoes from story to story make the book and its arc super strong. I’m wondering if you conceived of the stories as pieces of a collection while you were writing them? Did they respond to each other? And if so, how?
DOLAN MORGAN: In some ways, the collection is just a bunch of unrelated stories without any kind of theme tethering them together. No rhyme, no reason. Just one thing after another blindly shouting at you without aim or purpose. But of course that’s not actually possible. I’m willing to admit that I’m a person and I wrote them and I have things I care about and those things shine through whether I write about goats or planets or monsters.
In an earlier iteration of the collection, I intended for all the stories to be linked around a central idea. That idea, taken broadly, was catastrophe, and in particular that everyone secretly wants disaster to happen to them. The original structure was contrived and a bit forced, and I ultimately made a lot of changes to the lineup, but that initial concept still shows up in a lot of places. Characters lust after bad choices, pray for things to go wrong, and gently nudge their lives in the direction of collapse. Likewise, I’m obsessed by good acts being the root of all evil, that somewhere behind every abomination is a series of reasonable decisions made by people trying to do the best they can. There’s that old tale about a beggar who runs into death at the market. Death points at the beggar, inspiring so much fear that the beggar borrows a friend’s horse, rides to the city and hides for the night. The friend, pissed to lose a good horse, asks Death why he scared the beggar like that. Death replies he was merely surprised to see the beggar in the market—because their appointment was for later that night in the city. The end. Anyway, it’s possible that all of my stories are that story, except that the beggar usually knows exactly what’s coming.
NR: It’s true that, in many of these stories, there’s a sense of people desperately (secretly, perhaps unconsciously) wanting to be delivered from the cages of their lives by some powerful and painful outside intervention.
Did you have readers through these different conceptual phases? If so, who was reading the stories and how did you work with them?
DM: For a lot of the stories in That’s When the Knives Come Down, I shared initial drafts with a small group of friends. They’d help locate points of confusion and amusement. I wasn’t interested in deciding if a story was good or bad, but more along the lines of: What happens if I do this? Or this? Or that? Like a science lab. I wanted to gauge effect/impact of specific maneuvers more than quality/value overall. I think this approach stems most likely from my sense of wonder/awe (abject fear?) at the chasm that exists between a person’s brain and the rest of the world. How does anyone manage to say anything to anyone. It’s a lot like Jeff Goldblum trying to teleport things in The Fly. He has two chambers, and he tries to get something in X to travel to Y. You know, like from the inside of my head into anywhere else. And in the movie, like me, Jeff Goldblum often fails. The item in the teleporter won’t translate correctly. Things aren’t received as intended. The steak tastes funny. The monkey dies. That’s how I feel most of the time, and feedback has helped me to know if I’m writing a story or accidentally transforming into a human/insect hybrid.