MI got to meet Brian Centrone at a wonderful moment in New York: I was up for a Lammy for Light, and we got to chat outside the auditorium (and nearly melt, as it was roughly a bajillion degrees in there). He helped keep me calmer (I won’t say “calm,” as I was anything but), and it turned out to no one’s surprise that he was as lovely a fellow in person as he was online.
We’ve always been in synch about our love of the short fiction format, and recently Brian released a short collection of stories, I Voted for Biddy Schumacher: mismatched tales from the mind of Brian Centrone. I had the opportunity to sit down and read them, and now I bring this wee Q&A to you.
I Voted for Biddy Schumacher: Mismatched Tales from the Mind of Brian Centrone is a collection of three short stories from up and coming author, Brian Centrone. The collection opens with “The Life and Times of Biddy Schumacher: A Fantastic Story.” In this bizarre and enchanting tale of small town life, readers are introduced to quirky, religious zealot Biddy Schumacher whose decision to run for political office changes the course of her life. In “A Shade of Gray” (INK) independent, spirited Emma must try and find the courage and words to tell her boyfriend, “it’s over.” Finally, the well-received “Exit” (Voyages, Red Rover) completes this trio of stories, taking the reader on a late night car ride while the driver examines his life, friends, and relationships.
NB: You have a knack for painting characters with a turn of phrase or a simple action (I’m thinking of Biddy’s religious asides, or Emma’s smoking) that telegraphs their character to the reader without obviousness or a lot of prose—which is a fantastic skill to have in the realm of short fiction. Where do your characters come from?
BC: First off, thank you! My characters are usually sketches of people I’ve known or encountered. At times they’re composites of people who represent a shared ideology or behavioural pattern I want to shed light on.
For instance, Emma, the protagonist of “A Shade of Gray,” is based on a woman I met at a bar many years ago. She was a heavy smoker and drinker, and she struck up a conversation with me outside the bar about the trouble she was having breaking up with her boyfriend. What she told me that night led to the core of that story. Years later I ran into her again at a different bar. She didn’t recognize me, but I sure recognized her. She was still heavy into the drinking and the smoking, but now she was single. The later her inspired a recent flash fiction story I wrote. She’s become a totally different character now–in real life and in my fiction.
Another example would be Biddy. She’s like nobody I’ve ever met! Her character was conceived while I was living in the UK. It was very interesting for me to see the perspective of the US from abroad. This was during the Bush (W.) years, so you can imagine the filter through which America was being viewed at that time. Biddy represented the ultra religious conservatism (and ignorance) that dominated those years (which seem to have made a comeback).
As for the male lead in “Exit,” he’s an everyman/woman. I think we’ve all had those moments late at night where we wake up and say to ourselves, “What am I doing?” So, in a sense, that character was inspired by the human experience in general.
NB: Definitely. I can definitely remember a few moments like that pre-coming out. Now, you’re an editor as well as an author, and you’ve written across various forms, too: plays, a novel, poetry. What’s next on the horizon?
BC: At the moment I am working on my second novel. I’m about three years overdue! That’s going to be my focus for a long time. I have a few short pieces of fiction and poetry I’ve been submitting, so hopefully they’ll be new published work from me to fill the void in the meantime. An anthology I edited for New Lit Salon Press, Salon Style, is getting a much deserved print edition. It originally came out as eBook only, much like Biddy. NLSP has currently been bringing all their eBook only titles into print. The print edition of Biddy has bonus writing from me—I love this edition. Salon Style is a varied collection of fiction, poetry, and art. It’s very much a best of the press because it highlights all the genres and themes NLSP has published, but everything in the collection is new and hasn’t appeared in anything the press has published previously. Though you will find familiar authors and artists in the anthology. That should be coming out the end of summer/beginning of fall, and is a must read. It’s going to be a beautiful print edition.
NB: I can’t wait. You call the collection “mismatched” but I can’t help but notice they’re all about characters on the edge of changing their own lives in some way. Turning points, I suppose, seemed to me at least to be a commonality, alongside their decisions to take charge of some facet of their own life. How did you choose to collect these tales into the single volume?
BC: This is a multifaceted answer. To start, many readers and reviewers have mentioned that they have seen a connected thread running throughout the stories, similar to what you have pointed out. In that way, they do match. This thread of “turning points,” I believe, runs through most of my fiction.
The “mismatched” concept is very much a play on the characters inside the collection. Each character is mismatched with people they are with. Biddy with Seth, Emma with Richard, the unnamed male with his friends/girlfriend. Yet at the same time, I do feel there is enough difference between all three stories, in the tone, the characters, the individual themes, that they don’t seem, on the surface, like stories that would traditionally belong together, yet they work together. There is a “matched” connection. There is also a nod to Biddy’s horrific fashion sense and decor in the subtitle. Nothing matches! Observant readers will notice that the colours used for the cover match those of Biddy’s clothing and furniture. luke kurtis did a great job in making all those colours work together.
NB: I am not observant, but I had to go back and look and yes. Hat-tip to luke, because the design is gorgeous.
BC: Originally I intended to bring all my previously published fiction together and pepper in a few unpublished stories, but because I write in different genres, I thought it would be best to separate the work. My collection of gay, erotic fiction was grouped together and released as Erotica. I had a few other pieces of unpublished literary fiction I considered including in the Biddy collection but ultimately didn’t. For one, I wasn’t completely satisfied with them as finished stories, for another, those stories all fell into the category of gay fiction. I thought it might be nice, when ready, to do a separate collection with just those pieces (and any others I may have written in the interim). So in the end, three stories were left. Because most people see me as a gay author or a gay, erotic writer, I like the idea of a small collection which highlights another area of my writing. Not everything I write is going to be or has to be about LGBT lives, or sex. Those are some aspects of my work–not all. And in a way, we are back at the start of the question, because for many, the stories in this collection may seem mismatched when held in comparison to my other published work, including my novel, but really, they all share that connective thread of turning points.
NB: Well, I loved them. Thanks for stopping by, Brian!
If you would like a copy of I Voted for Biddy Schumacher, visit New Lit Salon Press here, or check out your closest brick and mortar store (Indiebound is a great way to search for your closest physical bookstore, here.) And, of course, you should be able to find the title wherever quality short fiction is sold.
Brian Centrone is the author of the short story collections I Voted for Biddy Schumacher: Mismatched Tales from the Mind of Brian Centrone and Erotica, and of the debut novel An Ordinary Boy (now out of print, but worth hunting for –NB). His stories and poems have been featured in college newspapers and literary and arts journals. Four of his One-Act plays have been produced for the stage as part of the National Endowment for the Arts’ The Big Read program. He teaches writing in New York. Visit Brian at www.briancentrone.com for more info. Follow him on Twitter @briancentrone.