Interview With Joe Davies
Rappahannock Review Fiction Editors: We were drawn to your detailed and complicated characterization in “Adagio for Dennis,” how did you choose what characteristics to give to Dennis and Cashman?
Joe Davies: The characters I come up with often begin as variations on me. Me, if I was in that situation. Me, if I had a choice about what to say and do at that particular time, that particular place—foibles and follies included. After this first step, things usually evolve. Maybe it sounds like a bit of a cop out to describe my process this way, but once people start showing up on the page they’ll often let me know a few things about themselves—most importantly, who they could be. With Dennis and Cashman, their unexpected honesty, their various moral ambiguities and assorted quirkinesses, the strength and oddness of their being friends-of-a-moment, all this came about fairly organically. Allowing for a certain amount of suggestibility might not be everyone’s favorite approach to characterization, but there’s a kind of vitality that sometimes comes out of it.
The short answer? Dennis and Cashman grew out of stilted versions of myself, imagined in these particular situations—and they evolved from there.
RR: In your piece, did you follow a preplanned narrative arc or did you improvise the plot along the way?
JD: I’m not sure if I can remember where the arc of “Adagio for Dennis” came from, though I believe I had the title before anything else. I know different writers have different ways of going about fashioning story content, but I almost always write beginning to end—usually as an act of discovery. Sometimes I know bits and pieces about where things might be headed, but for the most part I just set off hoping to explore and be pleasantly surprised. It doesn’t always work out. But I think it’s the act of exploring that primarily draws me to writing. “Adagio” started in the potentially rich territory of going to an after-hours club, and once Dennis himself showed up, the notion of repeated encounters with him would have supplied much of the trajectory that followed.
So, once more, short answer—yes, improvisation, or another way of putting it, and like my answer above, being open to what could happen, allowing the story itself to hint at different possible directions. In “Adagio for Dennis” that direction was clearly downwards…
RR: It is evident that this piece includes elements of heavy drinking, relationships, and dissociation. How do you get into the right headspace to write about these topics?
JD: Well, you know how they say to write about what you know… I spent quite a few years working in nightclubs, and where I lived, if I wanted to have some kind of social life once the club closed, after-hours joints were one of the few options. I won’t say I spent a lot of time at them, but I was certainly out at them often enough to get a feel for how different one could be from another. And the heavy drinking, the types of relationships that go with that, and dissociation—even if these aren’t all necessarily things I want to admit to myself—I’m prepared to say they are things I certainly came to know about.
RR: We understand that this piece is part of a collection titled The New Man. Can you tell us more about this project?
JD: The following is from a grant application I wrote seeking funding for The New Man. I described it as “a handful of variations on what it means to identify as a man in our changing times. In these stories there are men who are taking the corners without trouble and others who aren’t doing as well, but in all cases there’s a tacit acceptance that change has come. This is something I want to model, a departure from the old and fraying idea of what it means to be a ‘successful’ man. This doesn’t mean I want these stories to be pedantic or didactic, it just means I want to paint a few portraits of men who are not grappling for any more than they need to navigate their own lives and the lives of others.”
Like so many grant applications, it sounds maybe a little full of itself—full of itself and a bit grasping. In all honesty, I think the “New Man” I ended up writing about isn’t all that different from the old one—just that times have changed and in some ways, some of us are managing to roll with it.
RR: If Dennis could have a theme song, what song would it be?
JD: I’m not sure if either of these would be Dennis’ theme song, but both could easily be a part of his soundtrack:
“This Is The Day” by The The
And considering Dennis’ soft spot for disco music,
“Shame, Shame, Shame” by Shirley and Co.
Joe Davies’ work appears in Issue 10.1 here.