Author Bruce Machart visits Edwards Wednesday
VAIL CO, Colorado
Bruce Machart’s books – his novel “The Wake of Forgiveness” and his short story collection “Men in the Making” – delve deep into the male psyche. Not the urban and suburban male struggling through the rising tide of economic collapse, but the blue collar, sweating, and inwardly sensitive man. The kind of man that may have been modeled on the cowboy lore of the Old West, yet finds resonance in a contemporary setting.
“I have heard from some readers who say things like, ‘these guys spit and cuss too much!’ or ‘the story is too dark and full of unlikeable characters,'” Machart said.
It is true, there is much cussing, carousing and violence in the tales Machart tells. But, these traits are tempered with equal shares of emotions like love, redemption and forgiveness.
Machart’s characters are navigating a new world with old world skills and expectations. Whether they are tilling the soil of a Texas ranch with a plow strapped to their back, running the saw at an Arkansas paper mill, or contemplating the merits of writing practice while family and love fall to the wayside, these “Men in the Making” are forging ahead into an unknown future.
Bruce Machart will be at The Bookworm of Edwards Wednesday at 6 p.m.
1. Vail Daily: In a traditional sense writers usually publish a collection of short stories first and then move on to their first novel. You have done the opposite. How did this come about?
Bruce Machart: Well, in terms of publication, I’ve done the opposite, but in actuality most of these stories were written before the bulk of the novel was drafted. Really, though, I was cutting my teeth writing short stories for years before I even considered writing a novel.
2. VD: Who are some of your influences in writing? Would you say they differ when you are writing short fiction as opposed to longer format?
BM: That’s a good question, one that I haven’t much considered. When I’m writing fiction, I try not to read writers whose voices are particularly influential. I don’t want to sound like anyone else. What I’m looking for is the right voice or point-of-view or narrative stance for the story. It’s all about serving the characters who arrive out of somewhere in my subconscious. But I’ve learned, as we all do, so very much from my years of reading. When I think about the short story writers, I would say that I’m heavily influenced by Andre Dubus, Eudora Welty, Anton Chekhov, Annie Proulx, Richard Yates, Mary Robison, and Tim O’Brien. As a novelist, I’ve learned such a great deal from Wallace Stegner, Tolstoy, Faulkner, John Casey and John Fowles.
3. VD: The West in its landscape and characterization seems integral to your writing. Can you elaborate on how place becomes a character in your stories?
BM: To me, there is very little difference between place and character. Character resides in place; place resides in character. It seems that we are all forever in two places at once: the place where we are standing presently and the place we’re from. Eudora Welty said that place was the “lesser angel” of fiction, meaning, I assume, that character is the arc angel. But I see them as equals, or very nearly so. A vivid sense of place in fiction can do so many things. It can set mood. It can foreshadow. It gives the characters a concrete, image-laden world with which to interact. If you told the story of a man or woman (no matter how interesting their inner lives, their hopes and fears and desires …), and you set that story in a vacuum, I feel confident that it would be one boring damned story.
4. VD: Both your novel “The Wake of Forgiveness” and your story collection “Men in the Making” explore the inner lives of men, very manly men. Did you ever wonder if women would be able to relate to your writing?
BM: Not any more than I worry about my own ability to relate to stories of women, which is to say, not much at all. I believe that human beings relate to human beings. I believe that our capacity for empathy is limitless, so long as we foster it in ourselves. My choice is to write what I think I would like to read, stories about real human beings, stories about people in trouble, people struggling. I will say this: Some of the novel and story collection’s most vocal and generous fans are women, and I’m thankful for that.
5. VD: The characters in your short stories are workers; their labor is very physical, even grueling. Is this a comment on what work means for a man?
BM: It’s nothing that I’ve constructed consciously. I don’t fashion myself to be a moralistic or political writer. Now, that’s not to say that the stories I write don’t have themes; I think they must. What I mean is that I don’t create the themes beforehand. Instead, they bubble up from the bedrock of my subconscious concerns. And so I often discover thematic trends in my work the way readers might … by reading the stories after I’ve written them. That said, I do think that expectations of masculinity are changing, and I think there is a generation of men, especially blue-collar men, who were taught the old expectations but now must live in a world that makes meeting those old expectations nearly impossible.
6. VD: Have you had any remarkable reactions to your work since your two books have been released?
BM: Any surprises? I’ve been flattered, mostly. The reaction to “The Wake of Forgiveness” was so positive, both critically and in the feedback I’ve gotten from readers across the country. But the negative reactions have been strong, too, and I guess I’m surprised by how angry some readers get “at the author” for writing about characters who enrage or disgust or frighten or sadden them. I think that’s what literature should do! It should evoke strong feelings. And so when I hear from a reader who feels so passionately that I’ve done something horrendous in my work, I try to remember that a strong reaction is what I’m after. What I don’t get much, thankfully, is ambivalence, and if I’ve done my job well, that’s all as it should be.
Besse Lynch works for The Bookworm of Edwards. Email comments about this story to email@example.com.