Raquel Thorne: Your own writing is distinctly Southern—your short story “Black Mamba” (published at Revolution John) involves a moonshiner name Blinky who receives a lesson in poisonous snakes, and your new flash chapbook When You Cross That Line (There Will Be Words, 2015) was inspired by “Florida Man” stories. In one, a man is accosted by an alligator peddler at a rest stop right after arriving across the state line, which is on par with any Florida Man story I’ve read in the news. Paint us a picture of the “Florida Man” and tell us why he’s become an important character in your work? What does being a Southern writer mean to you?
Sam Slaughter: He, and I’ll invoke the royal He here (ignoring the fact that it isn’t a real thing), is important because he’s interesting. Not interesting in the “I’m going to the museum to learn some things” interesting, but “I’m pretty that guy’s last words are going to be ‘Hey, watch this,’ so let’s watch” kind of interesting. The stories, which all come from the news, show the basest of human emotions and actions. They get at the heart of what people are willing to do with their backs against a wall. The stories, I’d like to think too, help with my own humanity in that I’m reminded constant of my own privilege and luck and that it isn’t the case for most people out there. It reminds me that as long as I’m alive and writing that I still have plenty of time to try and help others as well.
As far as being a Southern writer, I don’t know if I’d consider myself one. By blood, I’m not. I was born and raised in Jersey. But both of my degrees thus far (Elon University and Stetson University) and the one I’m about to start working on (University of South Carolina) have all come in the South. While I wasn’t born in the South, it’s where I came of age—I made it through years eighteen to twenty-two without dying, somehow, so I figure to have learned something along the way.
I may be an imposter, sure, but at this point I’m more a person of the South than I am of New Jersey, and I think that being of a place can be as important as being from there. The. Again, I could be wrong and there could end up being a gang of ‘true’ southern writers ready to kick my ass. Good thing I’ve been doing MMA, I guess.
RT: What is your relationship to Grit Lit?
SS: When I started reading—really reading—books that would fall into the Grit Lit category were the ones that appealed to me. They were harsh, bleak, they were everything that the books I was made to read in high school were not. Best of all, in my eyes, they were interesting. The violence, the sex, the drugs, the complete lack of hope seemed much more real to me than, say whining about being a teen (though my upbringing is closer to Holden Caulfield’s than it is say, any character in a Harry Crews story).
When I started writing—again, really writing, not just pretending or half-assing it—I had been reading numerous Grit Lit books and that was the style that appealed to me. Alcohol has always been a big part of my life (I joke that my parents had taken me to over 100 wineries by the time I was eleven. The number isn’t that high, but it’s close) and so when as I wrote stories I saw drinking and alcohol coming up as themes. The best way I knew to approach them was head on, so I tried it. For the most part, it’s worked out okay.
What’s been interesting to learn about more is what Tom Franklin and Brian Carpenter, in their anthology Grit Lit, call, I believe, ‘Counting Cousins’ and ‘City Cousins.’ People like Andre Dubus III come to mind, who write with the same aesthetic but do it in different environments. It gives me an avenue to explore my own childhood in different ways.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that my relationship is evolving, as it should.
RT: Which writers, both established and emerging, come to mind when you think “Grit Lit”? What short story or novel would you recommend to read to someone just dipping their toes into the genre?
SS: I’d whistle here, but I’m not sure how that would translate. There’s a lot of writers out there doing great work. The best place to look is the anthology Grit Lit. Not only do they give a concise history, but the reading list at the end is phenomenal. It’ll keep you in books for years. Outside of that book, though, Sheldon Lee Compton, Taylor Brown, David Joy, and Smith Henderson all come to mind. I have Tawni O’Dell and Katherine Faw Morris on my list of writers to check out as well.
RT: Apprise us a bit about your other gigs. I hear it’s the Year of Indie Lit.
SS: I guess I do a bunch, huh? I’m currently the Book Review Editor for Atticus Review. That was really the jumping off point for everything. Dan Cafaro took a shot on me and I hope that I’ve been able to show him that it was worth it. I was the Fiction Editor for Black Heart Magazine for a little while and am a Contributing Editor at Entropy. I’ll be taking over the role of Reviews Editor at Yemassee soon and I’ve got one other role that is coming up, which I’m really excited for but will keep under wraps for now.
Beyond those literary positions, I work as a copywriter, I freelance, and I’m a contributing writer for The Manual, where I cover spirits and, sometimes, books.
I’ve always been a mostly social person and so this is my way of connecting with writer friends and other like-minded individuals. It may seem like overkill and I figure there are people out there who are like, ‘Fuck that guy,’ but oh well. My mentor, Mark Powell said that if you’re not creating a divide between people who love you and people who hate you (he was talking about one’s writing, but whatever), then you’re not doing something right. I’d rather piss some people off and have others that would love to buy me a shot than have a bunch of people that go ‘…meh.’
RT: Tell us the creation story of Slaughterhouse 5
SS: Like I mentioned above, alcohol has been a big part of my life since I was little. This isn’t the best thing in the world and I haven’t not suffered because of it, but for better or worse, I’m tied to it. I’ve worked in a winery and some breweries and eventually want to open my own distillery. I’ve also always kept in mind that if I’m passionate enough about something, I can find a way to incorporate it into my life. When I was given the chance to be a contributing editor at Entropy, I came up with the idea for “Getting Lit,” a series where I interview writers about new work and then create a new cocktail specifically for said work. It’s been great fun on my end and so a couple months back, with AWP on the horizon, I decided to create my own cocktail. I then decided to slap it on the back of my business card.
The cocktail itself takes its name, fairly obviously, from Vonnegut. My mother was a huge Vonnegut fan (I’ve inherited all of her first edition copies, including one that is signed) and the first book I read by him was Slaughterhouse V. Having the surname that I do, it seemed obvious. As for the ingredients, I guess think of it as a southern Long Island Iced Tea. I don’t care for cheap tequila, so I substituted that and the gin out to appeal more to the sweet tea palate that most people around me have.
To make a Slaughterhouse V, mix & serve over ice:
1oz bourbon, 1 oz Southern Comfort, 1 oz amaretto, 1oz dark rum, 1 oz triple sec, 2 oz soda water, & 1 oz sweet tea
We’re still accepting submissions for Grit by the Glass until 6/20/15.
Denis Johnson says to write naked, write in blood & write from exile. For this issue, we’re looking for Grit Lit writing that does just that. We want pieces that kick you in the gut & leave your mouth bloody. We’re looking for poetry & prose that can stop a dog fight while drinking homemade whiskey. We’d love stories, essays & poems that can find their way around the darkest hollers & the seediest city blocks. We want words that know their way around shotguns & fights, black eyes & regret. Words that get at the worst decisions people have ever made & their bare knuckle consequences. In the end, we want pieces that will shake you to your core because they are unafraid of broaching a difficult topic & they do it with aplomb.