Dawn Major interviews Scott Gould

I was introduced to Scott Gould through another South Carolina author, George Singleton. I reviewed Gould’s short story collection Strangers to Temptation and his first novel, Whereabouts on my blog, SouthernRead. He also wrote a memoir recently, Things That Crash, Things That Fly that is still on my “Must Read” stack. I didn’t know what I was getting into with The Hammerhead Chronicles, a novel that has nothing to do with sharks. After finishing it, I must say it was a pure delight. And I must share a recent event that happened to one of my family members. I was at dinner with my cyclist brother-in-law, David, and I asked him if he was a hammerhead. He gave me a funny look and didn’t really respond, so I tried to explain Scott’s book and then I guess he got it. But I almost feel responsible for what happened next. A week later a dog ran out in front of him while he was riding, and he went over the handlebars. Broken ribs, punctured one of his lungs, had surgery on his smashed collarbone. It was bad, and his wife Libby officially banned him from the open road. So, along with a signed copy of The Hammerhead Chronicles I plan to give him for Christmas, I think he’ll be getting a Peloton. Be careful how you use “hammerhead.”

DM: I’m still a little fuzzy about if being called a hammerhead is a complement or an insult and even Googled the term for a definition. What is a hammerhead exactly and is it a good or bad thing in cycling circles?

SG: I’m not sure where I first heard the term, but what I can tell you is, in my cycling world, hammerheads are always the ones blowing by me on the mountains and in the straightaways. (So I’m guessing the non-hammerheads are the ones who coined the term.) I mean, hammerheads are typically great athletes and semi-elite cyclists–you know, with zero body fat and crazy lungs and legs like pistons–so they don’t have much time for us rank amateurs who are chugging along. Hammerheads don’t have a lot of respect for folks who aren’t hammerheads. Now, having said that, I would LOVE to be able to pedal a bike like those people. When you’re slogging up the side of a mountain and it feels like you’re pedaling through mud, you wish you were a damn hammerhead. Hammerheads defy gravity. I have never, never defied gravity. Gravity always kicks my ass. 

DM: Second-person point-of-view for your protagonist, Claude! I love it. Did you attempt different POVs first, or did you decide upon a second person POV before you began writing this character? How about any of the other characters?

SG: I’m a creative writing teacher, so I’ve talked with students many times about the dangers of second-person point of view. The biggest issue, of course, is that it can turn gimmicky quickly. I tell students, if you write something in second-person and the only thing the reader takes away from the piece is that you played around with second-person POV, you’re in trouble. That’s when it becomes a gimmick instead of a legitimate craft tool. Ideally, you want the reader to forget about the point of view and simply be pulled into the character’s world. The second person becomes the natural voice of the narrator. In short, you don’t want the point-of-view tail wagging the characterization dog. (I’m not sure that makes sense.) Anyway, that’s all to say, I worked very hard on making the second person POV seem organic and logical and ultimately sound like it couldn’t have been done any other way. If I recall, Claude was always in second person. I think I remember deciding that I needed something to set Claude apart, since he is, for all intents and purposes, the main character in the story. I wanted his chapters (and the voice of his chapters) to be slightly different from the other, standard first-person narrators. And if you were to press me, I’d confess that because Claude is sort of hapless and at the mercy of the world around him, I wanted to give the reader a reason to stick with him and help pull him through the mess of his life. It seemed like using “you” allowed me to do that. One more thing: I’m a huge fan of John Irving. My favorite book of his, one that I try to re-read every year, is The Water Method Man. This is a pre-Garp novel, before Irving hit it big. I remember reading an interview where Irving said that when he wrote The Water Method Man, he just decided to break rules and do whatever he wanted in the book and not be swayed by agents or publishers or current trends or previous sales. And he had fun breaking those rules. So I decided, what the hell, I’m going to break some rules myself. Hence, the second person and a narrator who is dead and another one who doesn’t speak in complete sentences most of the time. It’s fun. And liberating. 

DM: I’ve heard in some circles that humorous writing is dead because writers are terrified to offend someone. Were you concerned that readers would be offended by your portrayal of some of your characters and not get the point of the book? Any weird feedback you’d like to share?

SG: Sure, I worry about that. I’m not the kind of person who enjoys offending anyone. But when I started this book, I set out to write a novel that satirizes a handful of Southern stereotypes, and in the early drafts, I pushed the satire envelope a little too much. In retrospect, I believe I was trying too hard to make my point through the humor, and I’m sure some of the material – that I rewrote (and rewrote and rewrote) – might have offended some folks. But luckily, I had a wonderful, tenacious editor at UNG Press (and I have a pretty good work ethic), so I was able to dial back the material and still accomplish what I set out to do, which is write a book about connections and foibles and challenges and preconceptions…and how they can all be misunderstood. As far as humor writing in general, I’ve heard the same thing, usually in the form of a complaint from writers who say that they are handcuffed because they can’t poke fun at situations like they used to. I think that is a little short-sighted. I mean, the world is always going to offer up situations that need to be satirized or examined with a humorous lens. My job as a writer is to discover the way the reader can follow a humorous path to the emotional core of a story. And at its core, The Hammerhead Chronicles is a book about community and connection and relationships, but you gotta catch the humor bus to get there. If you’re a reader who has no interest in laughing about the state of the world as you examine it, this book probably isn’t for you. Which is fine. We can still be friends. 

DM: I must say I had a real bunny-boiler situation with my personal debate over whether LeJeune’s character was written in stream-of-consciousness or interior monologue. There seems to be more opinions about these two narrative techniques than actual rules with numerous arguments to boot. Are there true definitions here? And if so, what is yours? How do you see LeJeune? 

SG: Way back in college and grad school, I studied classic stream-of-consciousness novels in the canon. And I remember lectures about interior monologue and all that. But I have to be honest, if I tried to think about all of the rules and the definitions and the categories when I sat down to write—and fret about them while I put words on the page—I’d probably be paralyzed. I don’t worry about the rules. (Which of course, can get me in big trouble sometimes.) What I worry about is character. So I asked myself, what would a skinny, feisty bartender like LeJeune sound like? How would her character talk? I figured her voice would be fast and clipped, and her dialogue would be reflective of her world, which is a bar, where things come at you fast—things like drink orders and sad sack stories and propositions—and don’t necessarily have a logical connection. I want readers to feel like they are eavesdropping on LeJeune instead of listening to a story she is telling them. I’m not sure what you call that. Like I said, I didn’t worry about categories or rules. I wouldn’t call it stream-of-consciousness or interior monologue. I’d just call it LeJeune. Maybe I should worry about rules more. I might sound smarter.  

DM: I said in my review that I saw Peg as metafictional. Would you agree? 

SG: Yeah, I think I might agree with that. Peg’s references to Restoration drama and the plots of television shows are intentional. I wanted Peg to be on the constant search for information, information about the world she left behind, as well as about the mysterious place she’s landed. She’s trying to figure things out, things in the world of the living and in the environment she occupies after her death. And she often does this in a metafictional way. When I was writing the book, I remember thinking that I wanted Peg’s chapters to contain big swings away from the main plot. Call them interesting distractions, maybe. That’s why you get the story about the sensory deprivation chamber or the wreck where all the men were killed in the cemetery or the seesaw with her childhood friend. Interesting distractions. I guess I’d be a little distracted if I was dead, too. 

DM: Your chapters are very short—some are less than one page long and one I recall was only a sentence. When you wrote this book, did you write in chronological time, and if so, did you find it jarring to go into so many different headspaces? Or did you write a character at time and then write another character, and so forth? Will you please describe your process? 

SG: I wrote the original draft of this book in chronological time and just tried to order the chapters by feel. I kept asking myself, “Who should take over this next piece of the narrative?” Then, in the next few drafts, I discovered I needed to do some rearranging, that maybe Claude was too present in this section or Cheryl dominated this one, so I reordered and maybe wrote a few new chapters to fill in some gaps. I felt like a musician trying to sequence songs on an album. Then, in the next couple of drafts, I gathered all the characters’ chapters and read one character at a time, fully, trying to get the voices consistent. But the original draft was done in chronological time. Now that you’ve got me thinking about it, it might’ve been smarter to do one character at a time. 

DM: What is on the agenda for Scott Gould next? Any events your readers may be interested in? A new book you’d like to discuss?

SG: I’m hitting the road for this book. I’m really happy to be out there, doing readings at bookstores and visiting classes and book clubs–that sort of thing. My last two books were published during the pandemic years, so everything was virtual…or non-existent. I’ve got all the events posted on my website (www.scottgouldwriter.com), in case folks want to come out and say hello. Right now, I have two manuscripts looking for a home, both novels. One is more of a historical novel, which is different for me. It’s set in north Alabama in 1910, when Halley’s Comet is about to arrive, and everybody up on Sand Mountain thinks the world is coming to an end. Good times. 

DM: I loved this book. It was a delight to read, and I wish you the best of luck with this novel and all your future writing. 

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