Seven Questions for Brock Clarke

In Seven Questions, the newest series on our blog, we interview writers, editors, designers, and others in publishing. We hope you’ll enjoy our first post with Ecotone contributor Brock Clarke, whose funny and powerful story “Our Pointy Boots” first appeared in our evolution-themed issue. We loved the story so much that we recently gave it a second home in Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone’s First Decade.

We also hope that you’ll share this interview and will continue to follow not only Seven Questions but a few other departments we plan to unveil in the coming weeks. Stay tuned to find out which fictional dog Brad Watson would adopt, as well as why dog-eared book pages make Cary Holladay think of nuns.


What books are open on your desk right now? 

Tove Jansson’s The Sculptor’s Daughter, Russ Rymer’s Genie, Stefan Zweig’s Beware of Pity, Mary Robison’s Why Did I Ever.

Where did the idea for your story in Astoria to Zion come from? 

It’s been fun to go back and try to think of what made me start that story. I know I was in Watertown, NY, snooping around, thinking about a novel I was planning on writing that would be, and ended up being, set there. And there’s an enormous military base in town, and I saw some soldiers drilling on the base, so there’s that. And I also recalled a sweatpants wearing lunatic with one pant leg up and one down doing laps around the public square, so there’s that too. And I remember feeling how daunting writing a new novel felt—and how I didn’t really feel like I could do it—but if I could maybe write a story set in the same place, then maybe the novel would feel possible, even if the novel ended up being nothing like the story. When I was thinking about this, I was also thinking, for some reason, about a line in a Barry Hannah story, I don’t remember which one, narrated by a guy who was pledging to put on his cowboy boots (I don’t remember if they were pointy or not) and walk up and down Main Street until someone noticed him. And I liked the image of a bunch of guys doing the same thing in Watertown, and I saw them all as a group, walking around in their pointy boots, and so I decided to let them narrate as a group too, for a while.

If you could change one thing about a classic work of literature, what would it be?

I would change the end of The Great Gatsby, the untenably, unlikably lyrical business about the boats against the current, etc.

What emerging author or first book are you most excited about?

I love Caitlin Horrocks’s first book, This is Not Your City. I can’t think of a wiser, lovelier, more winning, more jealous-making first collection of stories, and I can’t wait to read whatever she comes up with next.

Name a book you bought for its cover.

None! Seriously. Covers can repel me. But they never attract.

Graham Greene said that he wrote two kinds of novels, serious fiction and what he called “entertainments.” Given the wildly different tone across your work, do you think at all in these terms?

Well, my favorite book by Greene is his Travels with My Aunt. And I believe he said that that was the book where he stopped dividing his books between those that were serious and those that were entertainments. Which is to say, I think that Travels with My Aunt is both, and I think of my books as both too.

Lightning round

Typing or longhand? typing

Silence or music? silence

Morning or night? morning

E-reader or print? print

Vowel or consonant? consonant

Train or plane? I’d like to say train. But it depends on how long the trip. 

Bookmark or dog-ear? dog-ear

Cake or pie? cake

Mountains or sea? lake

Dog or cat? dog

Brock Clarke is the author of five books of fiction, most recently the novels Exley and An Arsonist’s Guide to Writers’ Homes in New England. Clarke’s stories and essays have appeared in, among other places, the New York Times Magazine, the Boston Globe, the Virginia Quarterly Review, One Story, the Believer, the Georgia Review, and in the anthologies The Pushcart Prize and New Stories from the South, as well as on NPR’s Selected Shorts. Clarke’s sixth book, The Happiest People in the World, will be published by Algonquin Books later this year. He lives in Portland, Maine, and teaches creative writing at Bowdoin College.