Interview with Sheldon Lee Compton

Vestal Review: Your story “The House in the Northwest Corner” featured in Issue 52 of Vestal Review, was our nomination for Best Small Fictions 2017, and our Pick of the Year 2017. I love that story. What was your inspiration for the piece?

Sheldon Lee Compton: I came up with an idea to write about this house I kept noticing on the way home from work. It was slightly strange, in that it was directly behind a Double Kwik gas station along Route 23. It seemed like such an odd place for a home. Over the course of those days I noticed more and more. It looked abandoned. The whole thing built up that way until I wrote the story. I relax my mind and let ideas come and then stick if they can and move forward. I have a well-built filter that runs during my writing time. In the end, as with my other stories, I wasn’t sure what it meant; I just hoped it would mean something to people reading it.

VR: I regularly follow your blog, and your tinyletter account where you are open about your heart attack. You recently wrote about your near death – or actual death – experience and your current health fears. Your post was honest and personal and it made me wonder how this experience affects your writing.

SLC: First of all I thank you so much for following Bent Country and my tinyletter account. It’s always exhilarating to know someone’s reading. The health problems—both those that were immediate problems and the ones that linger now— have a significant bearing on all aspects of my life, including my stories. I’ve definitely written more than a few stories with protagonists who have heart problems. It hasn’t really changed what I write about, though. I’ve returned to writing horror and speculative fiction lately.

VR: What draws you to horror and speculative fiction?

SLC: I’m not sure. I put a lot of importance on both writing stories that entertain readers and reading stories that entertain me. I suppose the better term than horror and speculative would be Aickman’s old standby: strange stories. Or maybe simply imaginative fiction. I like stories and novels and movies and anything else that explores the unknown in fun ways.

VR: Do you consider your published writing a legacy?

SLC: After the heart attack I do less looking back. The now is everything. As for my legacy, I’ve never thought anything about that. I’m not sure I’m deserving of a legacy as a writer. As a recovering alcoholic and addict, I’d be happy if people could just remember the person I am now and not the person I used to be.

VR: One of my favourite things about your writing is the way you depict Appalachia. I’m thinking of your novel Brown Bottle. Has the way you depict America changed as a result of our shifting political order, or does your corner of America carry on regardless?

SLC: That book is straight Appalachian literature. Some call it a crime novel. I mark it as likely the last book of flat realism I’ll write. It was published by Bottom Dog Press. And national politics mean nothing where I’m from. Nothing has changed here since I was born, when Jimmy Carter was president. Eastern Kentucky is a country separate from the rest of the United States. Not theoretically…but realistically. I never write with politics in mind. I never do anything with politics in mind.

VR: I’m a fan of all forms of your writing, Shel, poetry, flash fiction, short story and novel length work. Which form are you most comfortable with these days?

SLC: I’m most interested in short stories. Nothing else really comes close for me. I always have been. The other writing I do usually starts as a short story and then, against my wishes, collapses into one of the other forms.

VR: What’s your view of the future of flash fiction?

SLC: I have an odd view of what I and others have called flash fiction. I’ve certainly contributed my fair share of stories to this short form, but at some point I stopped drawing a line between flash fiction and short story. A “flash fiction” piece is, to me, a short story. I don’t believe we need the term flash fiction at all. We don’t have to apologize for writing a story shorter than ten pages, or five pages, or one page. And that’s what I see as apologizing: calling a short story something else. It goes back to the erroneous tendency to consider the short story a lesser form.

VR: What’s the future for your writing, Shel?

SLC: I have a steady relationship with Cowboy Jamboree Press and Secret History Books at this time. And I’m also finishing up my first nonfiction book called The Orchard Is Full of Sound that’s about the writer Breece D’J Pancake that will be coming out with West Virginia University Press, working with Derek Krissoff, within the next year. I’m grateful for those open doors. I have no desire to “shop around” my books at this point. I have a collection of stories called Sway coming out next year with CJ Press – thanks to Adam Van Winkle there – and just had my most recent collection, Absolute Invention, published at Secret History Books working with Mike Lafontaine. The books I’m working on now include a horror/detective novel called The Omega Problem: A Bishop Ford Novel, a horror/fantasy novel called Evergreen and a collection of dark western stories called Seven Drums.

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