by Susan Tepper
In this new Interview Series, Susan Tepper talks with authors about their books and lives, hopes and dreams.
Richard Peabody (photo by Dean Evangelista) is a French toast addict and native Washingtonian. He has two new books out— a book of poetry titled Speed Enforced by Aircraft (Broadkill River Press), and a book of short stories Blue Suburban Skies (Main Street Rag Press). He won the Beyond the Margins “Above & Beyond Award” for 2013. Peabody has edited Gargoyle Magazine since back before Elvis died.
Susan Tepper: French Toast is your addiction of choice, according to your book’s back cover. How often do you imbibe? What is your favorite way of having French Toast?
Richard Peabody: I don’t imbibe frequently enough. I did have some at AWP. Those who have the book expect it of me. That particular version was on Hallah and it was melt in your mouth good. I dream of morning after spoon-fed morsels with whipped cream and berries. Maybe honey instead of syrup. Warmed slightly. But this begins to sound like Sean Connery’s Bond— yoghurt, with ripe green figs and freshly-ground, black Turkish coffee.
ST: Do you imbibe in the nude? Alone or with friends?
RP: Lucinda threw me an all-female bachelor party. A perfect time for French Toast though we had sushi. Naked sushi models were not yet the rage. I can imagine naked French Toast models might get a bit too sticky for comfort. And I remained clothed.
ST: Who is the elusive Lucinda? For years I’ve seen her listed as co-editor (Lucinda Ebersole) on your Gargoyle masthead. Yet never have I seen a photo of Lucinda, or noticed her making an appearance at AWP or any conference. Does the mystery woman Lucinda exist in corporeal form? I picture her with sandy flowing hair and pale, diaphanous garments.
Lucinda Ebersole… bought an entire West Virginia town on Ebay a few years ago. Really.
As she said at the time, be careful what you click on.
RP: Lucinda Ebersole, a fellow Pisces, bought an entire West Virginia town on Ebay a few years ago. Really. As she said at the time, be careful what you click on. She moved out to Shirley, WV where she owns the building the USPS rents as the local post office, and the remainder of the buildings on main street. She raises chickens, gardens. Her two blogs are —
http://lucindaville.blogspot.com/ and http://cookbookoftheday.blogspot.com/
Plus she sells wooden cake boxes. I don’t consider her the Ophelia type per se, but her author shot for her St. Martin’s novel Death in Equality shows her underwater wearing pearls. We used to do book fairs together. We introduced the Karen Finley “Barbie” (book) at the Miami Book Fair back in 1993 and gave out an award at the Firecracker Award ceremony in Chicago in 1994? I think that’s right. “Mondo Barbie” made us so hot for a skinny minute that Lucinda was actually asked about fashion in the NewYork Times Magazine that year. She does have sandy flowing hair.
My mom’s from North Carolina. Between her and Lucinda I had to be a feminist. And both have influenced characters in “Blue Suburban Skies.” At least I like to think so. Enabled me to spend more time in the female POV in some of those stories. You never know whether it works or not until you get some feedback from readers. What’s surprised me is how much feedback has been directed at three of my male characters—Renfro, Eddie Luhan, and Wyatt. People really like them. Enough so I’ve been asked if there are other stories that feature them. Of the female characters the one I hear the most about is Isabelle from “Travels in Major Minor.”
My rule about covers has always been this—
Will a person see it face out from across a room and be curious enough to walk over and pick it up? If the image can’t do that it’s not the right one. That’s why we spend a lot of time trying to find an image that will grab people’s imaginations.
ST: The title story in your book (of the same name) “Blue Suburban Skies” centers around addiction. Do you think the father’s reaction is uncommon?
RP: Really? I don’t see it that way at all. I’m not glamorizing addiction and when I hear that word I think hard drugs like heroin or crack cocaine. I don’t see pot as a starter drug. In my experience it often aids people in getting away from alcohol as a crutch. Speaking of addictions. I do imagine that most people’s reactions are more like the wife’s in the story. I was after a much lighter experience–the bonding of two strangers, two men who discover they actually do have something in common. I find it very difficult for men to bond after they reach a certain age in this country. I liked the idea of them sharing something from their glory days, something neither has done in a really long time. Two oddballs making a peace treaty, sharing a little empathy, finding an oasis from their roles as stressed out fathers.
ST: Did the burbs pan out for you? Or did they leave you with something missing, the way they seem to leave Cheever’s characters. Sort of confused and conflicted. Left out in the cold. Stranger in a strange land syndrome.
RP: I think I like the idea of the burbs in the way I like the idea of utopia. It’s easy enough to see why they caught on. A few reviewers have mentioned Cheever but he wasn’t a direct influence. The Vietnam war impacted the burbs, as did the Civil Rights movement. That division and culture war (still being played out in current politics) was like an electric current for me. I think everybody I knew in the neighborhood was confused and conflicted. We were all driven to escape. And we did into travel, drugs, and loud imaginations. My characters are constantly running away only to find that a new place doesn’t eliminate the mental baggage of a life. Nothing new to you or me but for some of the characters it’s all about how that plays out in the world. As I get older I have a certain nostalgia for those lazy burn days. It was never perfect. But there are some strong memories that still tie me to those sweet spots in and among the madness.
And every artist I know, no matter what their discipline, feels like the outsider, the alien. That’s one of the engines we need in order to stand apart, observe, and render our work. Is that a good thing? Depends on the work. Depends on the family unit, or relationship. I think everybody in the arts is seeking some sort of balance in that regard.
ST: What inspired this choice of cover for your book? I like it. I’m drawn to the guy’s temple veins bulging as he leans over. It feels personal.
RP: Ooh, love at first sight. God-like hunk reaches down from heaven to grab tiny little houses between thumb and forefinger. I think you laugh when you see it. The cover is actually grabbing potential readers exactly the same way. So, you pick up the book, flip it over, and there I am with my fingers in a wolf’s mouth. What’s not to love? I suppose you could say that the individual houses mirror the individual stories as well, though that veers too close to “Life is a box of chocolates” hokum.
We didn’t take the photo or anything. Scott subscribes to a few of those freebie photo places and I browsed them and had a few possibilities but when I saw this one the bell rang— this is it. Nothing more behind it really. I’ve been doing this long enough that perhaps my filtering process runs at hyper speed or something? Dunno. I’ve seen a lotta covers. Maybe it’s just sheer numbers. Seen it, seen it, seen it, want it, love it. Ya know? My rule about covers has always been this—
will a person see it face out from across a room and be curious enough to walk over and pick it up. If the image can’t do that it’s not the right one. That’s why we spend a lot of time trying to find an image that will grab people’s imaginations. And this one has worked as it’s grabbed yours.
Susan Tepper is the author of four published books. Her current title From the Umberplatzen (Wilderness House Press, 2012) is a quirky love story set in Germany and told in linked-flash. Tepper has received nine Pushcart nominations, and one for the Pulitzer Prize for her novel What May Have Been (with Gary Percesepe) published by Cervena Barva Press in 2010. Tepper created the Monday Chat Interview series at Fictionaut, and the reading series FIZZ at KGB Bar in NYC. Her work appears in hundreds of print and online venues. www.susantepper.com