Poet & author Dale Herd [Photo: Dale Herd]
1) First, the obvious question: It's been 25 years since you published your last short story collection, Wild Cherries, in 1980. What have you been up to since then, and why did you decide to publish Empty Pockets now?
I think it's closer to 35 years. In that time many things occurred: a great marriage, three sons, coaching ice hockey, surfing in Mexico, getting some movies made, meeting a lot of wonderful people, writing a few novels. Several of my friends, each a well-respected poet, got together unbeknownst to me and told the late Allan Kornblum of Coffee House Press that I had been working on some new stories. Allan then wrote that he would like to see them, then suggested I do a New and Selected Stories collection. I welcomed the opportunity. The poets are, in alphabetical order: Bill Berkson, Michael Lally, Lewis MacAdams, Duncan McNaughton, Kevin Opstedal, and Michael Wolfe. I owe the publication of the book to them. Many of their works can be found at Blue Press Books.
2) Your earlier short stories are pretty unusual - they're all so nuanced and compact! They remind me a little of Lydia Davis, and also Jim Carroll. Who and what are your creative influences?
Hopefully, of course, some of the later stories are as well. I don't know either Lydia Davis or Jim Carroll, although tangentially their paths have crossed with several people I do know. Lydia Davis went to Putney, a private prep school in Vermont, at the same time as one of my best friends, Tony Ganz, did, and he always remarks on what a talented and prolific writer she is, although I have yet to read her. Michael Wolfe published Carroll's The Basketball Diaries when we all were living in Bolinas. I never met Carroll, although I did see him once in the Bolinas Bakery getting a coffee. Michael always told me what a great writer Carroll was. I certainly think that's true. Don't you love anecdotal gossip?
My influences? Pretty standard fare: the short paragraphs between the stories in In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway, then all of his great short stories, Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio, Isaac Babel's Collected Stories, James Joyce's Dubliners, James Agee's A Death in The Family and Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and, of course, the wonderful short stories of Chekhov and Maupassant. Also, Bob Holt, a feature reporter at the Ventura Star Free Press, who taught me to always write a simple declarative sentence, something on the order of: "There is a long, flat sandy beach," to start a story with. A short stint working on deadline at a newspaper helps un-muddle your thinking and forces you to cut to the bone. If you want to write short, there is no better training.
3) How did you select which of your stories would be included in Empty Pockets? Any unifying theme, characters, or time period?
In general, they were chosen because I simply thought they were the best I could do. As for the last question, I leave all unifying themes to the reader; the characters are always people I have met; and, as to the time period, I believe if one is lucky enough to succeed with the work the time period is always now, following Ezra Pound's dictum: "Literature is news that stays news." It is presumptuous, of course, to call what I do literature, but it is what I always am striving for.
4) You'll be joined in conversation with Lewis MacAdams next month at Book Soup. MacAdams is a poet and activist known especially around here for his work cleaning up the L.A. River. How do the two of you know each other?
After Donald Allen published my first book of stories, Early Morning Wind, way back in 1972, Lewis, who was the Director of Poetry at San Francisco State, invited me to read there. We met then and have remained good friends throughout the years and I hope for many more years to come. His collected works, Dear Oxygen, is a delight to read. Incidentally, he's the only poet who ever raised one billion dollars to restore a polluted river to its natural habitat. Who doesn't love that? If anyone deserves a MacArthur Grant he is that person.
5) What's next for you? Any future projects on the horizon?
Currently I'm working on a sequence of novels titled: Rincon, Changing Weather, and Ventura, three tales that follow a group of close friends that met as surfers at the end of the 60s, and went on through the 70s and 80s pursuing their dreams. Then there is Dreamland Court, a Hank Williams type novel I have been working on since 1980, that I recently finished. Hopefully, it will be published soon and make a few people laugh.
Dale Herd will discuss and sign Empty Pockets: New and Selected Stories with special guest Lewis MacAdams on Thursday, February 5th at 7pm.