Court Merrigan, whose story “Slog On,” appeared in Noir Nation 2, is a prolific novelist and short story writer living in the banana belt of Wyoming. He taught English in Japan and Thailand for a number of years and holds an MA in Japanese, hence his strong interest in Southeast Asia, which serves as the setting of many of his stories. He took time away from his busy writing schedule to talk with Noir Nation editor, Eddie Vega, about his recent novel with Snubnose Press, Moondog over the Mekong.
Interview with Court Merrigan
Noir Nation: Your story, “Slog On,” which appeared in Noir Nation 2, was a war crimes story set in World War II. Your most recent collection of short stories, Moondog over the Mekong, has a title that suggests the Vietnam War but the stories cannot be pinned down to anyone time or place. Nevertheless, they seem to have a seedy war time atmosphere. Was that done on purpose?
Merrigan: It’s all war out there, war on the individual, war on dignity, war on pride and love and hope. You don’t find out what any of these are worth until they are challenged, right? I hope that my stories do some work towards finding out just how much.
Merrigan: I actually joined Twitter because of Snubnose – last year when they were just getting started up, there was no obvious way to contact them, except on Twitter. I really thought that the stories I was writing were what Snubnose was looking for, so I started tweeting at them. Eventually I got hold of an email and we went from there.
Noir Nation: The word on the street is that short story collections do not sell as well as novels. Yet you invested your time and writing talents on putting one together, and Brian Lindenmuth of Snubnose published it. Is the street wrong?
Merrigan: I don’t think the street’s wrong, but it should be! I don’t know why – you’d think that in our Twittified, Facebooked, Tumblrized age, short stories would be the ideal vehicles for driving good fiction, but that hasn’t come to pass.
Having said all that, Brian and the Snubnose crew are putting out a bunch of kickass short story collections, looking to turn back that tide. If it can be done, Snubnose seems like the vehicle that can get there.
Noir Nation: You go back and forth easily between realistic fiction and what some call speculative fiction, which includes anything with a fantastical element, such as time travel, the presence of ghosts, and out of body experiences. Yet they all seem to share a certain brutal tonality and hence a sense of unity. Are you conscious of this?
Merrigan: I shy away from the overtly fantastical, but I am not above inserting the fantastic, if that makes sense. A story needs what it needs and if a particular piece is pushing me away from realism towards the speculative, that’s where I’ll go.
Noir Nation: You have a long publication list. How do you manage your professional and personal commitments to maintain such a high productivity as a creative writer?
Merrigan: By not getting enough sleep, first and foremost. I carve out writing time at the very beginning and the tail ends of the day, when the kids are asleep. I grew up on a farm and I try to keep a farmer’s sensibility about me – before me lies the work, which ain’t getting done if I don’t do it. My dad and grandfather worked every day of their whole lives, routinely putting in 16 and 20-hour days, and if they ever complained, they never once did it around me. Comparatively, I have a vastly easier life, plush with luxury and ease. Writing is difficult but it’s not hard. Scratching a living out of a hardscrabble Nebraska farm – that’s hard. I bear that in mind when my going gets a little rocky.
I think it helps, too, to not be particularly social. Parties, gatherings, get-togethers – they make me tired. All that conversation and smiling. I prefer dimly lit, empty rooms. With desks and books. And bourbon.
Noir Nation: How are you marketing Moondog over the Mekong? Are there any special secrets you’d like to share? Any back doors in the online marketing Matrix?
Merrigan: Man, I wish you’d hook me up with the marketing gurus who know the locations of these back doors, and have the keys. Moondog is being marketed on Twitter, Facebook, Amazon, the usual. My blog is undergoing a site redesign and will soon be transformed into an actual website.
I’m no expert, but I think one of the keys to marketing might be longevity. Hell, it took me ten years to write all the stories in Moondog. I’m not going to give up pushing it online after a few tweets.
Noir Nation: The book’s cover is truly beautiful. The colors, the simplicity of design. Who designed it? And how involved were you with its creation?
Merrigan: The one and only Eric Beetner, a fine writer in his own right, did the cover design. The two of us worked together closely but he’s the one who actually got the work done. Still gives me little shivers of pleasure every time I see the cover.
Noir Nation: What do you think the future holds for eBooks? For print?
Merrigan: Here’s what I can tell you: sometimes now when I pick up a dead-tree book, I get sort of annoyed at all the “flipping” you have to “do” with all these “pages” getting in the way of the story. A book just doesn’t fit in your hand like an iPhone or a Kindle… I’m being flippant— a little.
I’ve been a longtime proponent of ebooks — I started singing their virtues online before I even had an ereader, but I think the time for being a proponent one way or another is past. People prefer what they prefer and I am totally format agnostic when it comes to my own stuff. If you’re reading it, I don’t care how you get it!
Sometime soon, I think, we’ll hit a saturation point where everyone who wants an eReader will have one, if we’re not there already. But because eBooks are just so much easier to get, keep, and transport around, I think you’ll see them continue to eat up market share.
Noir Nation: Tell us about your literary influences.
Merrigan: These days I’ve been reading everything Jim Thompson ever wrote, as well as gobbling up Daniel Woodrell, Hilary Davidson, Lawrence Block, Larry Brown, Jake Needham, Stephen Graham Jones, Philip K. Dick, and Dennis Lehane.
A while back I was introduced to Will Christopher Baer. It is criminal that Kiss Me, Judas didn’t make him Quentin Tarantino-famous. If there’s one novel I could imitate in terms of the sheer sorcery of its fictive dream, that would be the one.
Our editorial essay “After the first crime, the first tattoo” in Noir Nation No. 2, discussed the relationship between crime, faith, and tattoos. Days after the issue appeared, so too did a New York Times article about how the descendents of Jewish Holocaust survivors are imprinting the concentration camp numbers of their forebears on their forearms: indelible tattoos to secure indelible memories.
In an interview that Paul D. Brazill calls, “great and meaty,” screenwriter Renato Bratkovič draws startling responses from Noir Nation‘s own Eddie Vega.
The interview was published in the bilingual Slovene literary journal, RadikalNews.
A live reading of Atar Hadari’s “The Donkey,” the introductory story in Noir Nation No. 2. The story was read by Will Everett at the Liars’ League Law & Order event on September 14, 2012, The Phoenix Pub, Cavendish Square, London.
“The Donkey,” a brilliant and powerful story about the tensions at an Arab-Israeli checkpoint, can be read in its entirety for free on Noir Nation’s product sample on Amazon.
(In what may be an instance of international kismet, Paul Calderon, a regular on the U.S. television show Law & Order, also has a story in Noir Nation No. 2: “Primitive Grace.”)