Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Neal Shaffer lives in Baltimore, Maryland. He writes for a number of small publications about a diverse array of topics. While we don't always, and perhaps more accurately often agree, I genuinely respect Neal's ability to argue a point.

I met Neal not long after moving here in 2003 at a loft party thrown by a mutual friend, we talked baseball; something Neal spends a lot of time thinking about.

These days, we play football together and I occasionally contribute to Neal's sports blog

1: How did you get into the comic industry? While I know how you and Daniel Krall got signed up with Oni Press, I wonder more what put you in mind to do the work to get you there. Why comics instead of novels?

Doing comics is a direct by-product of meeting Daniel Krall. He and I worked together at a coffee shop and we spent a lot of our downtime brainstorming. There wasn’t really a “decision” to do comics, it just made sense because he’s an illustrator and I’m a writer. It was a good, fortuitous meeting of the minds.

As far as novels, I’ve never had much interest in writing one. That’s a very specific kind of work and I’m not sure if I’ll ever be suited to it. If you look even at a screenplay, which is long-form and which I have done and hope to do more of, that’s still less to keep track of than what you’d have with a novel. My brain just doesn’t really go there, yet.

2: What moves you journalistically and creatively? I think it’s safe to say that even in your fiction and comics it’s safe to call your style journalistic. How do you decide which stories are interesting, worth writing about?

I’m moved by all kinds of different things – inspirations both small and large crop up virtually every day. As far as style, I wouldn’t say “journalistic” so much as “naturalistic”. I don’t tend towards the fantastic or towards hyperbole – it’s smaller details that fascinate me.

Asking how I decide what’s interesting is, as Milton Glaser said about one of the questions I asked him, “far too cosmic.” It varies for everyone, doesn’t it? If I had a matrix to refer to then I’d be selling a million copies of everything I do.

3: A lot of your stories center on the common dude. Not so much the average Joe, but the guy who isn’t really exceptional per sé, but usually quite good at what he does. He’s an everyman for our generation, in a lot of ways; flawed, but not terribly so. You just put him into interesting circumstances. Would you agree with that assessment? Do you feel your main characters are kind of autobiographical? Obviously, I’m looking mostly at Borrowed Time, but you could say kind of similar things about Last Exit Before Toll. Do you use yourself and the people around you as templates for characters or do you try to dream up personalities from scratch? Do you think doing the latter is really possible?

The “everyman” assessment is pretty close to accurate. The key thing there is that I tend to (though not always) write about people who could very well be real. I’d like to think that the characters that show up in my stories are believable as more than just characters in that particular story, but also as actual human beings.

That puts the onus on circumstance. Which, to me, is a large part of what makes the life of the individual interesting. That’s what I try to explore in most of my fiction.

I’ve never used anyone I know, or used myself, as direct inspiration for a character. I’m not even sure I’ve used them indirectly. My characters are composites of things I’ve seen, felt, etc.

4: You also write sports for both The Loss Column —which you founded, and I am a contributor to— and Baltimore’s free Press Box weekly. What makes sports interesting to you in the larger sense? What is it about athletic competition that deserves the affection and genuine obsession that we seem to place on it, both individually and as a society? What makes for good sports writing?

Sports are interesting because they’re a microcosm. It’s high drama, with human achievements and shortcomings playing out unedited and unfiltered.

That and they can also be a very social thing, which is also interesting and good.

I’m not sure I can tell you what makes good sports writing, though. Probably the same things that make any writing good or bad, which is to say that it’s case-by-case.

5: How do you find new music/art/film/etc? What have you been finding lately?

I find things the same way as everybody else: recommendations from friends, reading about them somewhere, stumbling across them at random, etc. Lately I’ve been digging on some leaked tracks from the upcoming Wilco and Dinosaur Jr. albums and I’m real hyped up on what I’ve heard from the new National record (all of which I intend to buy when they come out). I also found a Canadian rapper named Evil and have been listening to him pretty heavily.

There’s something interesting almost every day, but I don’t always keep a good mental catalogue.

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