Interview with Craig Rodgers, Author of “The Ghost of Mile 43”

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I had a chat with Craig Rodgers about his new book that we released that I thought was pretty fun and provided interesting insight into the thought process behind this amazing novel.

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Where did the inspiration for Shaw as a character come from? There are hints from a past life he once held before he exiles himself but not many details, did you originally come up with Shaw as a full fledged character and use that as a starting ground or did you just throw Shaw into the wild and feel it out from there?

 

Everybody has those thoughts about just being done, leaving everything and moving off to the woods, or here it’s a ghost town.  But the world comes right along behind, you’re never really leaving it.  Everybody’s lost things or had some straw dropped on them and they just feel done with it.

What events in your life, our lives you’ve witnessed, made you want to tell this story? How does “The Ghost of Mile 43” reflect reality as you’ve witnessed it?

 

A few years ago my identity was stolen, and going through the process of trying to wrangle that, all the calls about debt that wasn’t mine, the idea of up and literally walking away seemed appealing.  This is probably too literal an answer.

From both your perspective and from the perspective of Shaw, do you feel he is better off at the end of the novel? Why or why not?

 

I don’t want to tell anybody what they should or shouldn’t take away from the ending or the story as a whole, but if I were to answer in the most general fashion I would say he is not better off at the end, no.

There are a lot of characters that tend to meddle in Shaw’s isolation. The two teenagers, for example, refuse to give up on helping him. What do you think motivates these characters to get involved with Shaw?

 

Misguided energy.  Misguided optimism or the intention to do good.  Their motives are pure enough, but the way they go about it misses the mark.  This man’s a complete stranger.  They don’t have the tools or the perspective to be the help they want to be.

The ghost car is certainly a rather vague abstraction that readers can apply meaning to as they see fit, but what does it mean to you? Why is it haunting Shaw?

 

Oh I definitely won’t be answering that.

There is a running theme of survival and resilience in the book that I found particularly alluring. Despite wanting to escape from society as a whole, Shaw still wants very much so to live. He fishes, poisons himself with a frog, and scavenges to supply himself with nourishment. He maintains human form and principles despite not being a part of the collective whole of humanity, what do you feel that means for us as a species, as animals?

 

There’s something appealing in this visceral way about surviving in circumstances that are miles outside your norm.  This guy is not an outdoorsman, he has no idea what he’s doing, but he’s doing what he can with what’s there.  There’s a satisfaction in that.

What do you do to clear your head when writing gets to be too much for the day? Are there any hobbies or little moments you like to soak up in order to unwind?

 

The boring things. Cliche things. Drink too much coffee. Buy office supplies. You feel like you’re doing something when you buy office supplies. Someday that spiral notebook’s gonna be full of stories. And you can never have too many notebooks or pens.

As for as artistic inspirations go, whether it be painter, musician, or writer, who has influenced you and how? What artists have you been drawn to throughout your own endeavors?

 

Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, Donald Ray Pollock. Who else. Shirley Jackson. Robert Aickman. I’ve been going through a Dashiell Hammett phase lately. I’m spacing the names of painters. Shit. You know Genieve Figgis?  I like her stuff.

What other projects do you see yourself working on in the future? What aspirations are bouncing around inside of your head? 

 

Oh tons of stuff. I’ve been working on a series of short stories that take place in a lake town.  They share some faces here and there and some locations, but they’re each their own thing. At first I wanted to write it for screen as each one being a few episodes in an anthology, a sort of shared universe thing, but that’s all well outside my wheelhouse. I’ve also been showing around another book, so maybe that’ll pop up soon. And other things.  Always other things. But a lot of that I’ll need to pair with an artist for. That’s down the road stuff.

Any final words, shout outs, or random snippets of information you’d like to share with the readers?

 
Yeah, just enjoy the story, tell a friend, you know? Enjoy the next one too.

 

‘Hemingway’ by Craig Rodgers

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The Hemingway I met was in 1959 on the southern beaches of some foreign locale.  He would sit in the window of a house that didn’t belong to him and all day long he would drink from a cheap glass and smile at pretty girls in frilly bathing suits.  Sometimes they would mouth something sarcastic and he would laugh like he didn’t understand and somehow the joke was always on them.

I knew nothing of the man’s works and I knew nothing of his life.  He was a name I had heard and a personality I enjoyed. He took me to parties and he laughed and he drank and he was the most interesting man I had ever met.  People looked at him even as he was doing nothing and the town was always at the table.

It’s days or more later and I’m alone at a cafe when a face I’ve seen around several times but still the face of a stranger takes me aside and speaks to me in hushed tones.  I shrug off his words and I shrug off those of the next man to say them, but it isn’t long before I can’t shrug them off anymore.

People would say to me he’s a liar.

“Hemingway is a liar?”

They would say he’s a cheat and a thief.

“Hemingway is a cheat?  Hemingway is a thief?”

No.  You’re not getting it.  

“He is not Ernest Hemingway.  That man is a bad man.”

It’s a party like any of the dozen others, the hundred others I’ve found myself in on this island of turmoil and beauty.  Hemingway is laughing and he is telling stories that don’t belong to him. He is looking at me and he is raising a glass.

“To life.”

I put my hand on his shoulder and I squeeze like an old friend.  I smile into the bearded face of a man I don’t know. I put my knife in his ribs.  I push and I feel cloth tear and flesh tear and something else underneath. His eyes grow wide and they grow distant.  

And I wonder, will the real Hemingway’s eyes grow wide when I stab him?  Will they grow distant?

Craig Rodgers is the author of stories that have appeared in Juked, Heart of Farkness, Chicago Literati, Not One of Us, and others. He has an extensive collection of literary rejections folded into the shape of cranes and spends most of his time writing in North Texas.

Three Poems by Craig Rodgers

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A Treatise on Fiction

There once was a boy
made of a pencil’s scribblings.
He lived in a town
that was flat and blue-lined.
His whole life was words,
flashy or bland,
big, small,
with lines through them when they led him down the wrong path.
But after awhile,
in his little flat town,
the words marked out grew frequent and threatening,
patches of them sprouting in the strangest of places
until it became unclear if there was still
any path at all.
But the boy
he was smart.
He looked at his town,
at its blue lines and square land,
and he got an idea.
That town.
Those words.
That world.
That boy.
One day,
these things,
they were just
erased.

 

Clippers

If I were telling a story I would have the plot be about obtaining a stolen pair of fingernail clippers.
The second finest pair ever made.
The finest pair are no longer in existence, as they were so fine, so well crafted, that the one time they were used they didn’t just split the nail, they split the atom, and miles around were instantly vaporized.

 

Thomas is a Liar

Thomas is a liar. When Thomas was twelve, Thomas ate all the candy in the candy jar. When his mother asked who ate all the candy, Thomas said that a monster ate it, because Thomas is a liar.

When Thomas was in high school, Thomas cut class. When the principal asked Thomas where he’d been, Thomas said he’d been in class the whole time, because Thomas is a liar.

When Thomas got the new car, Thomas ran over a man in the road. When the man died in his arms, Thomas said he was sorry, because Thomas is a liar.

When Thomas was being led to the gas chamber, Thomas seemed confused. When the guard asked Thomas if he knew why he was here, Thomas said no, because Thomas is a liar.

But Thomas didn’t really go to the gas chamber. Thomas didn’t really run over the man in the road. Thomas didn’t really cut class or eat all the candy. Thomas didn’t do any of these things, because Thomas is a liar.

 

Craig Rodgers’ credits include stories ‘Man in Leaf,’ published by literary journal Juked, and ‘Wishes,’ appearing in Fark’s 2016 anthology benefiting St. Judes and which was the inspiration for that year’s cover art. He also has stories picked up in recent weeks at Not One of Us, Faded Out, Andromeda Spaceways, and Chicago Literati. Follow him on Twitter