Interview with Chris Dungey

This is one of an ongoing series of interviews with contributors to The 3288 Review.

Chris Dungey is a retired auto worker living in Lapeer, MI. He spends his days mountain biking, feeding two wood stoves, singing in a Presbyterian choir, watching English football, camping at sports-car races, and spending too much time in Starbucks. He has over 50 story credits. He has been published recently in Marathon Literary Review, whimperbang, Madcap Review, Literary Commune (UK), Door is a Jar, and Aethlon (Wright State University), and has work forthcoming in Sediments Literary Arts. His short story “Slice” appeared in our second issue in November 2015.

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3288 Review: How and when did you start writing? Was there a specific event or moment which sparked your interest in the written word?

Chris Dungey: I actually began writing journalism in high school, Imlay City Community High School in Lapeer County. There was a student newspaper, printed locally at the shop of the Imlay City Times. We tried to publish every two or three weeks. We did our own layout, chose and measured print for headlines, sold ads. Any visit to the shop exposed one to the loud clatter of the old Linotype machine and the ink-stained veteran newsies who worked there. I did not dabble in fiction until I was in college at St. Clair County Community College. But the impetus to write, the seminal event, would have to have been reading Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River” in eighth grade. I am someone who cannot simply enjoy a thing without attempting to emulate it. With regards to that particular classic, I’ve probably fallen well short.

3288 Review: Since you have been writing for most of your life, do you feel that being a writer influenced other decisions in your life; e.g. jobs worked, or vacations taken? Or to put it another way, do you go looking for the stories you write, or do you take them as you encounter them?

Chris Dungey: When I earned my degree in History (Minor in English) from U of M Flint in 1976, I already had eight years of seniority at GM. It is a rationalization, I know, to say that I would cling to the assembly line as a well-paying job rather than gamble on education hours (post-grad) and then secondary teaching. But, I’ve gotten a lot of stories out of the shop. I’ve gotten a lot of stories out of relationships and divorce. So, I guess the way things fell out was good for stories. I’ve gotten stories out of vacations, as well, but didn’t go places just to get them. They were a happy byproduct. Only recently have I “gone after” stories. About a month ago I drove up to Harbor Beach to explore former homes where I lived as a small child. I took pictures. There were triggers and I “harvested” two stories. I may be doing more of that, though I’ve always been in favor or looking forward and not back. I have a derisive attitude toward Facebook posts wherein the older person is asked to identify and remember various artifacts from the 50s and 60s. Like and share if you’ve ever used one of these. That kind of thing; demeaning and condescending. But, I’ll look back if I can get a decent story out of it!

3288 Review: Your poetry has a very accessible, conversational feel to it and the “voice” is similar to much of your short fiction. On balance, how much of your writing is poetry and how much fiction? When you start a new piece, do you already have in mind which it will be? Or do you let the form come about after exploring the idea?

Chris Dungey: I do have one poem in particular recently anthologized in John Taylor’s Michigan Poet. To date I have had over 140 poems published and 53 stories. However, I haven’t written a poem in more than two years. My stable of submission-worthy poems has dwindled to approximately 40 poems in 9 groups. I haven’t submitted poetry to anyone since last winter. I am always too busy trying to come up with the next story idea. A story, once begun, has never turned into a poem, that I can recall. I will admit, though, that the reverse has been true: Sometimes when I’m strapped for a story idea, I’ll go back through my sheaf of poems looking for seeds and stems. That has proved fertile at times.

3288 Review: Your stories have a similar feel to other writers of the seventies, for example Jim Harrison and Tom McGuane, and maybe Richard Brautigan. Is this an artifact of being a writer in the 70s? Or to ask another way, when you got your degree in 1976 who were your influences?

Chris Dungey: [from a Kindle, in Florida, on the way to the 24 Hour Daytona]. YES! Harrison and McGuane, Bukowski and Dybek soon thereafter. Gary Snyder in poetry. Steve Almond more recently; Joy Williams, Ann Beattie, Dennis Johnson. (wow, that IS a strong 70s–80s representation!) Except for the ladies it sounds like a who’s who of younger, not yet dead white guys. Even my foreign influences are Anglos Martin Amis and Irvine Welsh. Also, Lucia Berlin is currently knocking my socks off.

3288 Review: Automobile racing plays a prominent role in your writing. How did this come about? Are you also a driver? And are there any notable events which have found their way into your work?

Chris Dungey: No, I’m not a driver. I wish! One of those pastimes I should have pursued long ago. I can think of only one piece where auto racing plays a prominent role, actually. “The Pace-Lap Blues” first appeared in an online publication called CACTI, Winter, 2014. I used it as the lead story in my collection by the same name. It was all about my first major race, a Can-Am sports car race in Mosport, Ontario in 1970. I juxtaposed a road-trip to the race with the infidelity of a girl-friend. I probably should do another racing related story since I attend about 3 major races each year. As a matter of fact, I’m just back in Michigan from the 2016 24 Hours of Daytona. I’ll be headed back to Florida with my wife for the 12 Hours of Sebring in March, then I’ll camp at the Weathertech Sports Car showcase at Road America (Elkhart Lake, WI) in August.

3288 Review: When writing stories based on past relationships, vacations and other experiences, were there any which brought about exceptional moments of nostalgia or deja vu? Any which surprised you with how much emotional impact they still carried?

Chris Dungey:  At my age, much of what I write is going to be inspired by or will trigger, in its turn, nostalgic ruminations. I’ve gotten many stories from my first marriage, the wife in which has been deceased some 20 years. It presents some problems. We were wilder in our youth, taking risks and acting crazy…the stuff of stories. But how many editors want to present 70s stories to a young readership? There are so many zines since the advent of the interweb; so many young readers! What do they care about the misadventures of boomers 40 to 50 years ago? The story you guys published (“Slice”) had the rare exception of having been inspired by other than the narrowly autobiographical incidents which I’m accustomed to twisting into fiction. Its time-frame was contemporary. It was based on the merest curiosity about the physical appearance of a carver in a restaurant. The guy looked baked or hung over and in need of a shave. The restaurant was unusual (all turkey) and business was slow except for the mob of my in-laws. My usually lazy imagination took it from there.

3288 Review: What are you working on now? Anything scheduled for publication?

Chris Dungey: I have no publications forthcoming at the moment. Two stories have already appeared, so far, in the calendar year: at Icarus Down and Aethlon; A Journal of Sport (E. Tennessee State U.). I have completed and debuted two stories so far in the calendar year and am currently working on a story called “Liberty.” Again, it is one of the few not inspired by something that happened to me. I chanced to drive by one of those costumed kids who try to draw attention to the Liberty Tax Preparation offices. But this Ms. Liberty was sporting a hipster beard (facial hair again…hmmmm) and a pair of those annoying “ironic” glasses. I got to wondering if some drivers might be irritated or even irate to discover the iconic lady in such hirsute condition. The story is being written from the kid’s POV and I’m conjuring a life for him which may include a shave after dodging enough McDonalds trash and lukewarm coffee dregs hurled in his direction.