Dinty W. Moore's memoir Between Panic & Desire (University of Nebraska) was winner of the Grub Street Nonfiction Book Prize in 2009. His other books include The Accidental Buddhist, Toothpick Men, The Emperors Virtual Clothes, and the writing guide, The Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction. He has published essays and stories in The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, Harpers, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Gettysburg Review, Utne Reader, and Crazyhorse, and teaches in the creative nonfiction MA and PhD program at Ohio University.
Dinty W. Moore is synonymous with literary nonfiction; when he agreed to do an interview with me, I was both humbled and thrilled. What do you say to someone who has almost single-handedly shaped a genre into what we know it as today? Researching Moore was as exciting as interviewing him; what I enjoyed most was delving into his world of Brevity, the magazine he founded and edits, in which all the stories are less than 750 words. To experience true writing, read brief writing; it truly put a new spin on my ideas. I also gained greater appreciation for Moore's books, reading about father figures to literary techniques and most anything in between. This interview was as unique and memorable as Dinty W. Moore himself and I am truly grateful for the opportunity.
Superstition Review: One of your trademarks is your highly unusual name. How has that uniqueness been an enhancement to your literary career? In what ways has it been a hindrance?
Dinty Moore: First of all, from my childhood on, this name forced me to have a sense of humor about myself, and that is a good thing. I suppose it also helps to have such a memorable name in my career as a writer. If you've read an essay by John Miller once, many years ago, and liked it, what are the odds you remember his name now? But Dinty W. Moore . I think the name has unexpected benefits that way.
SR: You are the editor of Brevity, one of the leading literary nonfiction magazines, which publishes only works that are 750 words or less. This is rather unique in the genre, since essays usually run for thousands of words. What drew you to this concept? What is gained with abbreviated writing?
DM: The concept was a reaction to two things: the web was still fairly new in 1998, when I started this, and at the time I was highly interested in the sudden story, the fiction short. I think I can remember rubbing my chin and thinking “Can this work too in nonfiction?” As for what is gained, Bernard Cooper says it best: short nonfiction “requires an alertness to detail, a quickening of the senses, a focusing of the literary lens, so to speak, until one has magnified some small aspect of what it means to be human.”
SR: Speaking of brief writing, you also edited Sudden Stories: The Mammoth Book of Miniscule Fiction. What most impressed you about these authors' abilities to write complete stories of less than 350 words? What do you feel is the key to successful brief stories and writing?
DM: To write anything that is both short and powerful, you have to enjoy revision, and you have to have a passion for going over every word and every sentence of your story—fiction or essay—twenty times to make sure there is not a better, more direct way to say it.
SR: In Between Panic and Desire, you describe many events in your formative years as diverse as the influence of “Father Knows Best” to being under the influence of psychedelic drugs — what impacts to your life came from such a wide range?
DM: Well, I'm a firm believer in variety. The truth is, between the age of 20 and 30, I bounced from job to job, and city to city, and art form to art form, thinking all the time I was rudderless and a failure. Now, in hindsight, those years of moving from job to job, thing to thing, were necessary for me to be here, where I am now, as a writer, but also as a person. So maybe I wasn't so rudderless after all.
SR: The Truth of the Matter: Art and Craft in Creative Nonfiction illustrates many and varied techniques nonfiction writers can utilize. What are the biggest differences and challenges between writing nonfiction and authoring books on how to write?
DM: Authoring books on how to write is so much easier than writing something new, and true, and personal. I'm proud of my writing book, but it comes from a different part of the soul.
SR: You published The Emperor's Virtual Clothes in 1995. In the last 14 years, the internet has been transformed. What do you see as the biggest evolutions of internet culture since this piece was written?
DM: Video and image. It was all text in those days. It was also all scientists and computer hobbyists. Now it is everyone, even children. And it is consuming so much more of our time. In 1995, you could have spent two hours on the internet, and exhausted its possibilities. That's an exaggeration, but it sure felt that way. Now you can lose yourself in Wikipedia and Google and social networking for the rest of your life.
SR: With the abundance of online magazines and newspapers, like Brevity, many speculate the end of the printed word is coming. Do you feel the same? How can printed materials have an advantage over electronic or how does electronic literature expand our reading for the better?
DM: Not to be all semantic on you, but does print have to mean “black ink on paper?" I love black ink on paper, the book, and the little magazine—I truly love them—but the change is coming, it is inevitable. Folks who in 1998 said “I'll never use e-mail,” are using it all of the time now, or else they don't have regular employment. Folks who in 2009 say “I'll never read a book on a device” will have to change too, like it or not. And yes, there will be advantages. We probably don't know all of what they will be yet, and such a big change is frightening to authors and publishers, but things have a way of working out.
SR: Alongside writing, you are also a professor and director of creative writing at Ohio University. Do you think the technological tools our youth utilize, such as texting and Twitter, negatively impact their ability to write? Do you think it will do damage to the future of literature?
DM: The ability to write is damaged when people don't read. If people stop reading literature (on paper or on the Kindle, either way), that will damage the future of literature and writing. If people stop reading serious, thoughtful essays, that will damage the future of literature and writing. Twitter and texting bore me, but they are not the problem. It is the reduction of reading time that hurts literature and literacy.
SR: What do you feel is the benefit of writing nonfiction? What elements of the pure art of writing does nonfiction capture that fiction cannot?
DM: They each capture truth in very different ways. I'm glad they both exist and I think the distinctions between the two matter.
SR: Somewhere in your busy life, you are working on your next project, about 'the art and craft of the personal essay.' Phillip Lopate's The Art of the Personal Essay displays different essays to show the development of the personal essay. In comparison, what differences will your book bring to the table, particularly when examining 'craft'?
DM: I don't know. I haven't finished the book yet. This much I can say, though: Lopate's book, a wonderful effort, is mostly anthology. My book will be mostly “the art and craft” of essaying, explored through discussion, example, and exercises.