Memoir as Collage: The Morphing, Absurd Self

Paul Strohm didn’t create the genre of 100-word stories, but he created it for us. We read his 100-word pieces in Eleven Eleven several years ago, caught the 100-word bug, and said, “Dang, let’s start a lit journal focusing on these 100-word ditties.”

So we’re more than happy to see Strohm’s collection in print—100 100-word stories that form a daring, funny, and insightful memoir called Sportin’ Jack. We asked Strohm a few questions about his different approach to memoir and how he felt about excavating the type of personal material many tend to shun.

By the way, 100 Word Story readers get a special discount on the paperback edition of Sportin’ Jack through CreateSpace when you enter this code: BQ6PE2VB. It’s also available for Kindles through Amazon.

Why did you decide to write a memoir in a series of shorts instead of in the more traditional narrative?
I don’t like the doldrums you get into, moving yourselfor your characterfrom one place to another.  (“Then in 1960, I enrolled in . . .”). The equivalent of getting in and out of cars in badly-directed movies. Besides, I treat the gaps and spaces as part of the composition. To be a bit zen about it, the gaps have something to say, too.

The shorts seem to argue against the narrative arc of a life—that existence is more like a series of collages of tiny moments.
Which, I think, it is. Cumulative, but erratically and discontinuously so.

What’s key to taking episodes from life and making them into these tiny stories?
I guess when they seem to epitomize something. Or, better yet, several things at once.

If there’s a theme you’re tracing, it seems to be a sort of absurdity of self because you’re often the butt of the joke in these pieces. Are we fundamentally absurd creatures?
Absurd? That’s for sure. I grew up on Camus. By the way, I realized after writing these that I do have one literary exemplar: Zeno, in Svevo’s “Confessions of Zeno.” Zeno’s my literary main man.

You also unflinchingly explore what others might consider embarrassing territory. How important is that personal dare to crafting a successful story?
I like your phrase, “personal dare.” I probably am a bit harder on myself, on my various craven foibles, than on any of the other people I write about. But I think that’s the ante price to get in the game; if you’re going to be at all candid about other people, you’ve got to start with yourself. I certainly don’t like autobiographies (that is, 98 per cent of them) where the authors give themselves all the best lines.

Why did you decide to self-publish these pieces?
On the advice of my son John, who’s in the music business and masterminds the direct release of albums without label deals. And, if a plug would’t be amiss, Createspace has been great.

Will you write another collection of 100-word stories? If so, will you try your hand at fiction?
Maybe so. Actually, these were veering toward fiction while I wrote. Although the raw material was personal and I tried to be faithful to it, I found myself partially morphing into a “character” as I went along. The line between autobiography, biography, and fiction is thinor, to put it more accurately, indistinct.

For more, read three stories from Sportin’ Jack.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *