Michael Schiavone has been writing professionally since 2000. An accomplished short story writer, his work has appeared in numerous literary magazines and been recognized by dozens of award programs, including multiple wins in the Glimmer Train award series for short fiction.
After graduating from Dickinson College in Pennsylvania, Michael worked as a stockbroker in San Francisco and Boston during the late ‘90’s dot-com boom. Following that bubble’s burst, he tended bar in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Currently Michael works as a day trader and emergency medical technician on Massachusetts’ North Shore. He plans to earn his paramedic license by 2013.
His debut novel, a family drama titled Call Me When You Land, released in October 2011 from Permanent Press. Michael’s story collection, You’d Be Crazy Not to Love It Here, is represented by Barbara Braun Associates, Inc.
Michael talked to us about his career, his novel, and life in Boston.
This story feels very real and powerful. Where did you draw your inspiration?
Call Me When You Land was conceived in 2007. I had just moved back to New England following a five year stint in New Mexico and Arizona. We’d used a Pod to facilitate our move back east and this very item turned out to be the spark that ignited my novel. The image of a Pod in a driveway intrigued me. You see them everywhere now. The mystery of its contents and origin provided the foundation for Call Me When You Land. Everything took off from there.
Character relationships are at the center of all my work. Call Me When You Land is Katie’s story, but her identity is shaped by motherhood, so it’s also C.J.’s story. For better or for worse, they are intertwined. The volatility of this rich dynamic is what inspired my interest in their world.
It’s quite common for three-dimensional characters to sort of write themselves. Did that happen to you with any of your characters in “Call Me When You Land”?
Absolutely. Since I wrote this story from the third-person limited perspective, I did not find it difficult to tell the tale from a woman’s point of view. My protagonist’s gender had no bearing on my understanding of her predicament. Because I spent so much time inside Katie’s head, writing her became second nature. Once I got her, I got her completely. Often, I imagined how my own mother must have felt dealing with me as a teenager, or how my friends’ mothers felt dealing with them. In many ways, writing Katie was like making amends, a way to express gratitude and empathy to the women who raise us.
What was it like to make the transition from short stories to a novel? Were there any hurdles to overcome or did it all feel natural?
While this is my debut novel, this is not my first attempt at the book; I’ve written two in the past—one terrible, one so-so. That’s how it goes. It took me over a decade of labor to get my short stories recognized and published. Novel writing will require the same commitment. But writing a book is a different animal. You have more room, more leeway, but that doesn’t give you a license to bore your readers. Short story or novel, I have to apply a sense of urgency. I have to stress out my characters. Ultimately, they have to surprise me.
You’ve been writing professionally since 2000. How did you get into writing?
The idea of writing occurred to me in college when I randomly signed on for a creative writing class. The instructor introduced us to the work of Raymond Carver, which inspired me tremendously. I was very connected to his subject matter—the ostensibly bleak landscapes, the subtle humor, the desperate characters. There was so much power inside of his stories; everything was always on the line. Like many writers before me, I wanted to write just like Ray. This was the young and romantic phase of my writing life, before reality struck, before I pushed Ray off the pedestal. And it was reality that ultimately drove my own work, what created my voice in fiction.
Who are some of your favourite authors that have had an influence on your writing?
Looking behind me on my bookshelf, I see Raymond Carver, Andre Dubus, Richard Yates, J.D. Salinger, John Steinbeck, Tim O’Brien, Russell Banks, Denis Johnson, Thom Jones, Tim Gautreaux. That’s a pretty good list.
What can we expect to see from you in the coming year?
Right now, I am in the midst of a creative crisis, one of many I’ve endured over the years. I want to be working on something new, something exciting, but it’s not an organic want at this time. In other words, my heart is not in it right now. I always tell myself that these gloomy periods are part of the process, an occupational hazard, but that doesn’t make me feel any less sterile. Man, aren’t I a ray of sunshine?