10 Questions for Eric Schlich
- By Abby MacGregor
“I was born with one eye. On the day of my delivery (June 6, 2004) the doctor and nurses at St. Alice’s maternity ward were ready and waiting for my arrival, equipped with their APGAR test, which stands for: Appearance Pulse Grimace Activity Respiration and is a rating of 1-10 for “newborn viability.” (I’m copying this out of my anatomy and physiology textbook—Understanding the Human Body, page 113—after looking up birth defects in the index, although Mother doesn’t like that word: “It’s a birth gift, Owen.” What the gift part is I’ll never know.) . . . Despite my deformity (a word Mother hates even worse), I scored a six.”
—from “Journal of a Cyclops”, Fall 2018 (Vol. 59, Issue 3)
Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
The first story I ever workshopped (with Kim Edwards, at the University of Kentucky) was called “Running Shoes” and it was a bully story. The protagonist’s shoes are stolen and tossed up on an electrical wire (this image was the driving force behind the piece). His friend dies a terribly tragic (and melodramatic) death trying to retrieve them, with lots of gratuitous description of his body after his fall.
Needless to say, the story was terrible and I always think back on it when my students use melodramatic violence in their first stories.
What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
So many. Story-wise, I like to think of myself as a disciple of George Saunders and Karen Russell in particular. But there are many more: Kelly Link, Stacey Richter, Aimee Bender, Kevin Wilson, Benjamin Percy. . . I try to hold onto the magic of my childhood (and adult) sci-fi/fantasy reading, too: J.K. Rowling, Philip Pullman, Orson Scott Card, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire, Audrey Niffenegger, etc.
What did you want to be when you were young?
A Power Ranger. Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz. A student at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry (Ravenclaw House).
What inspired you to write this piece?
“Journal of a Cyclops” is a story from my collection, Quantum Convention (forthcoming from the University of North Texas Press this November). You can read the title story online at Crazyhorse. The book features many characters who are outcasts, whether physically, morally, or fantastically. For “Cyclops,” I aimed to transplant a monster of myth into a suburban context by making his monstrosity into a medical condition.
Owen’s story owes a debt to Karen Russell, who often writes stories about humanized monsters, and Jeffrey Eugenides, whose novel Middlesex I adore—it’s also about a character with a unique medical condition (hermaphroditism).
Is there a city or place, real or imagined, that influences your writing?
Well, I already mentioned Oz and Hogwarts. That’s got the magic covered. The flip side, I suppose, is suburbia. I come from a neighborhood in Lexington, Kentucky that’s not far off from Privet Drive (although my family’s much nicer than the Dursleys, thank god). I often like to marry the quotidian and the strange and see what happens.
Do you have any rituals or traditions that you do in order to write?
Nothing ritualistic. I drink coffee or tea while working. I go back and forth from handwriting to typing; this helps with the drafting process. I make myself get out of the house and walk the dog after I’ve been staring at the screen for too long. Do any of those count?
Who typically gets the first read of your work?
My wife, Jade, who’s a poet and a good fiction reader. I also have a few writer friends I’ve held onto from workshops at my MFA at Bowling Green and Ph.D at Florida State. They’ll sometimes offer feedback on my work and I’m happy to repay the favor.
If you could work in another art form what would it be?
I’ve always wanted to write a graphic novel, but I can barely draw a stick figure. I realize it could be collaborative—i.e. you write one and someone else draws it—but the drawing looks like the fun part!
The other big one is writing for TV. I’m a total TV junkie—there are so many great shows out there! Writing can be such a lonely business and I love the idea of working in a room full of other writers to map out a season arc and bounce ideas off each other, then scurrying away to write your assigned episode.
Fun to dream about, but the reality? The idea of having to “break into” the business (“networking”! bleh!) and work my way up the ladder by being the assistant to the assistant to the assistant to the Showrunner? Nope, sorry. I’m too introverted for the task.
What are you working on currently?
I’m juggling projects. Revising the draft of a novel called Eli Harpo’s Adventure to the Afterlife. It’s inspired by heaven tourism books like Heaven is for Real and is about a teenage boy who begins to question whether he really saw heaven during a heart surgery at the age of three. This doubt comes at a bad time: a televangelist who owns a Christian theme park called Bible World has just recruited Eli’s family to promote a Biblical Realm named after him. Plus, he’s discovering his queer identity and is unable to reconcile this with his Southern Baptist family. Poor kid!
I’m also working on stories for a new collection—Unpresidented! & Other Dystopias. The title story is about a reality TV show (not unlike American Idol) that now elects the U.S. president. Other stories in the collection will also feature dystopic or apocalyptic themes (I just finished one about a zombie outbreak in a high school).
My newest project is a YA novel called Pavlov’s Camp for Disobedient Weredogs. It’s similar to “Journal of a Cyclops” in that it’s also about a character with a mythical medical condition (cynanthropy) and overprotective parents. It’s early days in the drafting, but I’m already having fun inventing characters from dog breeds.
What are you reading right now?
I recently finished The Power by Naomi Alderman and loved it. A smart speculative premise that sets up a brilliant feminist dystopia (kind of the inverse of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale). I just started Mohsin Hamid’s Exit West (I’m only a chapter in, so no spoilers!) and next on my list is Lethal White, the fourth book in the Cormoran Strike detective series by Robert Galbraith (AKA J.K. Rowling). I’ve pre-ordered it and am counting down the days until it shows up in my mailbox!
ERIC SCHLICH is the author of Quantum Convention, winner of the 2018 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction. His stories have appeared in Fairy Tale Review, Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, Mississippi Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Electric Literature, and Redivider, among other journals. He lives in Dunkirk, NY, and teaches at SUNY Fredonia.