Thursday Jan 23

SteveO Steve Oberlechner earned his MFA from West Virginia University and teaches composition and creative writing at Potomac State College in Keyser, WV. Previous short fiction has appeared on the Cortland Review, and he has published creative non-fiction in the Gettysburg Review and Prairie Schooner.
Interview with Steve Oberlechner, by Natalie Seabolt Dobson

Okay. First, the obvious. "Arm-Wrestling the Slipstream" is written in 2nd person POV. Why did you make that decision? What do you think are the benefits and/or risks of this POV for your audience? Do you have other pieces which use this same POV? Where does this story fit into your overall body of work?

Second person point of view was a choice based on my enjoyment of reading second person stories. I like the immediacy of second person, present tense and the invitation to engage in the story that it brings. Despite the specificity of the "you" character (young male) and his experiences in this story (which may or may not be familiar to a broad audience), I thought that the choice was fair in that, based on my observations of peers in high school, pretty much everyone can associate to some degree with the struggle to create and maintain relationships and social status and the feeling of need to cultivate some kind of desirable image.

As I was reading "Arm-Wrestling the Slipstream," I felt, several times, as if I was watching a film. How does the structure of this story's fluid scenes relate to how a film is made? Was that a conscious decision or something that happened organically?

I wasn't thinking of any particular movies while working on the story, and since I've never tried to make a film or write a screenplay, I guess I just got lucky on this one if structure being comparable to a film's is praise. This story is more plot driven than is typical of other stories I've written, so that can make it more like a movie, I suppose. Description and detail were something I strived to make clear, so I guess I wanted to have a pretty strong control over the imagery, which wouldn't, I imagine, be a lot different than an element of film-making. Fluidity of scenes, their breaks and flow to the following was really just me getting the pieces where they needed to be to work towards the finish.

How do you feel, personally, about your characters in this story? Readers may think that because you wrote them, you must like them. But would you want to hang out with Scott and Moose? Do you think your protagonist is reckless by setting himself up for trouble?

I like all the characters in this story. They all have realistic needs. The "you" character needs friends, and Scott and Moose need some help in their classes and some extra money. I don't think of Scott and Moose as villains—just guys who like to use their imaginations to take advantage of someone. I expect most people can wonder why they simply wouldn't want to cut to the chase and use force to get what they want more quickly, but there has to be something satisfying in out-witting a smarter classmate. Would I want to hang out with them? Sure, but not before I considered why they want to hang out with me.

How much do you draw on yourself and your own experiences in your fiction?

Without saying how much, if any, of this particular story is non-fiction, I'll say that I'm a pretty bad liar and kernels of truth have helped to make me feel that a finished story is more fully realized than something purely invented. What I submitted is fiction—never had an experience like this one, but I've known characters like these guys and settings like those described and feelings like those felt by each of the characters.

Who (or what) has influenced you and your writing? Who are your most favorite writers/artists, and can you tell us your three favorite stories of all time?

The MFA program at WVU, its professors and my peers, have had the greatest influence on my writing. They can smile or cringe about that as they choose. Favorite authors are Cormac McCarthy and Tobias Wolff, though I can't say their influence on my style is really apparent in this particular story. Too tough to pick just three stories I'd call my favorites. Too many great ones out there I've enjoyed.

Sorry. Could you discuss the amount of time and work required by your teaching and how that affects getting your writing done? What is the relationship, if any, between your teaching and your writing?

Working at a small college dictates that I teach primarily composition courses that introduce students to basic essay writing and research skills. I've had the luxury of a creative writing class twice over my experience as a college instructor and those courses, obviously, were more stimulating given their connection to my graduate studies and desire to create prose. Still, despite the numerous sections of composition and the heavy grading that they bring, I do what I can when I can regarding personal writing. It makes personal writing a slow process, but if you don't put teaching first and you don't care about your students learning, then you probably aren't much of a teacher.

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