Q&A with Marc Nieson

As many of you might recall, Marc Nieson, whose “The Last Hours of Pompeii” won the 2008 Raymond Carver Short Story Contest, was the Guest of Honor at Carve’s first Dallas Literary One Night Stand back in November. He recently took some time to look back at the event and answer a few questions about his work.

Carve: First of all, what inspired your Carve story, “The Last Hours of Pompeii?”

Marc Nieson: I first drafted “The Last Hours of Pompeii” in the wake of the big tsunami of 2004. So at the time I was thinking a lot about unforeseen and unfathomable loss, about devastation. Trying to imagine what would be most personally devastating, my daughter immediately came to mind. Losing her struck me as utterly terrifying, unthinkable.

In terms of my narrator, having his young child die seemed equally unfeasible, or in this case, too limiting a choice or narratively overwhelming. So divorce became the next alternative. A different kind of loss, similarly rending yet at-hand and ongoing. Both present and irretrievable.

I just tried to honestly place and keep myself in his shoes for a while. To see what that might feel like and where it led.

C: Talk a little bit about the Dallas One Night Literary Stand experience.

MN: It was a great joy and honor to be Dallas’s first One Night Literary Stand reader. Matthew [Carve’s editor] and I had been trying for 2-3 years to bring me down for a reading. I was delighted with the venue and turnout and energy in the room. Like all he does with Carve and his editing, Matt’s attention to detail and honest love and support of writers/writing was so evident, and felt. He had delicious finger foods and desserts catered for the readers and audience. Since this was his first produced event, I can only imagine what he’ll develop in the future. No doubt, much will blossom down in Dallas.

Personally, it was intriguing to hear Carlos Iruegas, a trained actor, read excerpts from my short story “The Last Hours of Pompeii”, as well as very useful to test out some of my novel-in progress, Houdini’s Heirs, aloud and before a live audience. A couple past students of mine showed up, as well as a local cousin of mine, who’d never been to such a reading, and was duly impressed to find an avid, intelligent community at-large. He might well be hooked, now.

While in town, I also taught a couple short workshops for Thea Temple at the Writer’s Garrett, which enabled me to get a further feel for Dallas’s writing community.

My only regret is that I’m so far away, and can’t partake as much as I’d like.

C: For those who weren’t lucky enough to have made it to the reading, tell us a little about your novel-in-progress, Houdini’s Heirs.

MN: Houdini’s Heirs is a parable set mostly in Coney Island. Its central story revolves around a present-day sideshow and the romance between two of its prime performers—a legless juggler and a, well, I can’t even reveal what the other performer looks like. Yet the tale dips back in history as well. Vaudeville and spiritualists, sense deprivation tanks and “Real TV”, the heydays of Dreamland in the early 1900s and the current real estate boom/bust along the boardwalk all play roles in its rollercoaster narrative. And, of course, Houdini himself makes an appearance or two. Step right up…

C: Do you have any works in the pipeline we should be on the lookout for?

MN: Nothing to speak of right now. However I am in the process of compiling/editing an anthology called “Couched in Fiction.” Stay tuned.