Last week I reviewed Joe Borri’s short story collection entitled Eight Dogs Named Jack. Due to the fantastic response in that review and giveaway, I have a special follow-up interview with the author.
(e): I recently reviewed your book, and I loved it. Could you give us your description of Eight Dogs Named Jack?
JB: First of all, thank you so much for giving my work some exposure. I really appreciate that and the great interest shown on your blog. I would describe the book as an attempt to entertain an audience while leaving behind the footprints I’ve walked, from Detroit and the northern part of the state. As an avid lover of movies, stories and jokes, I’ve always been fascinated by the ability to keep an audience engaged while trying to tell a multi-layered story. I try to take what I’ve gleaned from all those stories , combine it with what I’ve dreamt and what I’ve experienced and convey it in a story. Being an artist, I think there’s an inherent want to describe many things and create visuals. I sometimes fear I overwrite or over-describe, but it’s who I am.
(e): There is great variation in the characters, from moral upright people to murderous criminals and everything in between. Where do you get your inspiration for such realistic characters?
JB: I always tell people I’m the Italian son of a Detroit cop who married a Sicilian girl whose father hated Detroit cops. That’s pretty close. I’ve always had a sick memory, remembering things in great detail from when I was 2, 3 years old. It’s kind of scary. So I always wondered why all these “sticky” memories were there. All of it sticks in my head and comes out into these amalgams of character. My father is a tremendous storyteller. Some are based on him, the more heroic, honorable ones (he’s Lou in Honest John). Many are mixtures of my wife’s uncles or cousins, my father-in-law. Some are based on hearsay; a guy knew a guy who knew a guy, that kind of thing. A lot of it is just mashing little things I’ve experienced and having some fun. It’s amazing what you can do by just observing. Part of it’s the fact that I wrote from 10 pm until 2 or 3 am. Your mind wanders pretty freely when you’re that sleep-deprived.
(e): I finished reading your book about a week ago, and many of those characters are still walking around with me, Hopper and Roman in particular. From a writer’s viewpoint, what do you think it takes to make a character memorable?
JB: I try to remember the hero myth. The presence of heroes in stories are necessary in some way or another. I’m a big Joseph Campbell fan, so much so that I quoted him in the epigraphs, which I encourage the readers to pay attention to. For me it’s relying only on their physical attributes. Believe me, I’m a raw writer at best, but I’ve tried not to rely on telling the reader too much, instead trying to show, use inference to flesh out the character, the way a filmmaker might do. I think Hopper for instance, is a good example. You see this young black kid’s almost savant-like ability on a trick bike, so you realize he’s special. There’s a lot of interior thought, and through a couple sparse comments on his physical appearance, an image of who he is sprouts, or at least I hope it does.
Dialogue certainly is huge in my opinion. Inflection, the choice of words. Are they polite or profane. I struggled with how much cursing to use in the dialogue because many of these characters are surface-toughs. That’s the talk I remember, that I experienced. I feel it would be disingenuous to the reader to water it down. Names, too. Sherman Armbrewster, the huge contractor in I’m From Detroit, was meant to evoke a tank-like man (Sherman tank) and an armbuster, hence his surname. The hero in that story, Roman Materra, was a mix of my wife’s uncle and movie heroes. The extra R in Materra to evoke terror. He’s kind of an aging warrior, a real man’s man. He’s in three of the stories and mentioned in a couple others.
(e): Why did you decide to include the illustrations?
JB: As I said, it’s who I am. At one point I thought, “I don’t want it to take away from the writing.” Then I thought, “Maybe drawings would pull it all together.” And for me, it felt like a way to create a pulpy, noir look, a call back to illustrated fiction. Now I’m glad I did it. But I doubt I’d do it again. Maybe the cover of my next book, if I’m fortunate enough to get it sold.
(e): That leads me to my last question; what are you working on next?
JB: I’m in the second draft of The Claw, a novel I started before selling Eight Dogs. It’s a dark humor look at our compulsion to collect things.
Thank you very much for the interview, Joe! It’s been great having you as a guest here, and I wish you all the best with Eight Dogs Named Jack, as well as your upcoming novel. Please let us know when the new book hits the shelves. Personally, I can’t wait.
(I wonder if The Claw will mention anything about people who compulsively collect books? That would make this girl nervous. If I did that. Which I don’t.)