Alan Brickman works with nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and program evaluation. Raised in New York, educated in Massachusetts, he now lives in New Orleans with his 17-year old border collie Jasper, and neither of them can imagine living anywhere else. In addition to SPANK the CARP, Alan's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Literary Heist, Variety Pack, Evening Street Press, Sisyphus Magazine, October Hill Magazine, and Random Sample Review, among others. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alan's work appeared in Pond 68
Why do you write?
First, for the sheer joy I experience in capturing the essence of a real-world moment, using only words on the page. I often observe things around me – a neighborhood gathering, lovers holding hands, a workplace argument, an ambiguous gesture or half smile, the way someone stubs their toe or checks themselves in the mirror – and wonder how I would capture in writing all the attendant nuance and complexity, how I would take the particular and make it universal. When I succeed, it is the most satisfying feeling. Second, I write exaggerated, fictional versions of the events in my own life (using my recurring alter-ego, Frank) so that I can figure out how I really feel about them. "The End of Dad," my story that appeared in SPANK the CARP, is a perfect example. My father made no secret of the fact that I was a great disappointment to him, even right up until the end when he couldn't resist a few deathbed parting shots. My relationship with him was not nearly as bad as the one in the story, but I was able to tap into and explore the painful emotions I've had about it, and the writing enabled me to find some peace and closure.
What other creative activities are you involved in?
While writing is my primary creative outlet, I am also an enthusiastic supporter of all the creative people in my life. If someone I know is putting their art out in the world – reading a new story, acting in a play, playing with a band, screening their film, exhibiting their paintings, doing stand-up or magic – I will always show up and cheer them on! Someone once told me that I am the "Renaissance Audience Member." I'll take it. Art needs an audience!
Who is your favorite author and why?
I'm going to cheat and name a few. For a long time, I had two favorites. After reading "White Noise" and "Ratner's Star," I was hooked on Don DeLillo and read everything he wrote. After reading "Portnoy's Complaint" (where it all began) and "The Counterlife" (one of his "talkier" ones), I was hooked on Philip Roth and read everything of his. But after a while, DeLillo felt too mannered and Roth too sour. Currently, my favorite is Colson Whitehead. I am in awe of his prize-winning masterpieces, "The Underground Railroad" and "The Nickel Boys," and then there are all the others that are similarly powerful and poignant about race, history, agency, family, survival. I particularly appreciated "The Intuitionist," in which Whitehead fashioned a profound and compelling story about, of all things, elevator inspectors. I also want to mention Katherine Dunn's "Geek Love," a book like no other, that I routinely gave to women I dated so that I could use their reaction to determine if there was any chance we might have a future together. Honorable mentions to Jim Thompson and Chester Himes for showing me what genre fiction can do, and Wallace Stegner for his perfect sentences and indelible characters.
Tell us about the mechanics of how you write.
My wonderful writing group gathers by video-conference every Thursday night. The meetings are structured around a prompt, we all write for an hour or so (on the laptop for me), then read what we've done. If I like my piece well enough, I keep revising and expanding it until I feel it is ready to submit for publication. Sometimes, I'll enroll in a writing workshop so that I can reflect on what my story needs in a more structured context. I want to acknowledge the invaluable contributions of Allison Alsup who, through her superb workshops and manuscript consultations (offered through the New Orleans Writers Workshop), has provided me with great insights into what is working and not working in my stories, and why. My two favorite pieces of advice from Allison are: 1) start with a problem or conflict ("no conflict, no story" is her mantra), then add a character that makes it worse, then have them go somewhere else that makes it worse, … (We have a running joke about improving a story by making it worse.); and 2) always ask yourself, "Has everything I've written earned its place on the page by adding something essential about the characters, the conflict, and/or the stakes?" If I stay focused on those two things, I usually do pretty well.
Finally, what do you think about Carp, the fish, not our website?
Not Carp exactly, but here goes: My blissful place is Halibut Point State Park in Rockport, Massachusetts. When I lived up north, I moved to Rockport from Boston to be near Halibut Point, and went snorkeling in the cold ocean water off the rocky coastline (more like Maine than Massachusetts) whenever I could. There was much to see – starfish covering the rocks, lobsters and crabs hiding in the crevices, flounder camouflaged on the bottom, and schools of striped bass everywhere! Fishermen would cast their lines from the shore, and when they saw me in my mask and snorkel, often asked if I would point out where the striped bass were. I would always refuse because to do so would have been an unforgivable betrayal of these gorgeous creatures who allowed me to share their breathtaking world for a few hours. I think about Halibut Point all the time, and miss it. Especially all that magnificent life beneath the surface.