George Dila’s short story collection “Nothing More to Tell” was published by Mayapple Press in 2011, and his short story chapbook published by One Wet Shoe Press in 2014. His short stories and personal essays have appeared in numerous literary journals. A native Detroiter, George now lives with his wife Judith in Ludington, a small town on the Lake Michigan shore. You can find more about George here: www.georgedila.com
Geosi Gyasi: Let’s begin with your short story collection, “Working Stiffs”. What is the inspiration behind the book?
George Dila: Just plain old practicality. I had three stories, all previously published in literary journals, but 15 years apart. They all had a “working” theme, so I figured what the heck, maybe I can find a publisher who would publish a fiction chapbook. You’ll find numerous publishers who publish poetry chapbooks but damned few, I’m sorry to say, who publish fiction chapbooks. But One Wet Shoe Press said “Yes” and a few months later, we had a book.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that the short story form is easier to write than novels?
George Dila: All good fiction is devilishly hard to write . . . period. Short fiction and novels each have their own challenges. You have to have perseverance to write a novel, but technically, short stories may be the more difficult. Novels can be big and sloppy. Great short fiction has to be diamond sharp. That’s hard (no pun intended).
Geosi Gyasi: Do you care about language when you write?
George Dila: Yes, I care about language a great deal. Beautifully wrought fiction is a joy to read. For a writer, it’s a natural ability, I think. It can’t be taught, although it can be nurtured. My favorite writers – Lee K. Abbott, Bernard Malamud, Cormac McCarthy, Philip Roth – all use language beautifully. Personally, although I do not consider myself a poet, I write poetry because it helps me write prose – it helps me to use language more effectively, creatively.
Geosi Gyasi: How different is your book, “Nothing More to Tell” from “Working Stiffs”?
George Dila: Simply that the stories in Working Stiffs have a common theme – work.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you have a specific audience you write for?
George Dila: No. At least not consciously. I guess I write for people like me.
Geosi Gyasi: What has been the response to “Working Stiffs”?
George Dila: Well, I’d like to talk about the response to that phrase “working stiffs”. My dear wife thought the phrase would turn people off, that it was something of an insult. I, and my publisher obviously, felt differently. The reaction has been as I suspected. Most people think of themselves as working stiffs, carrying the title like a badge of honor. In fact, I had some buttons made up that said “I’m a Working Stiff” and everyone wanted one. They wore them proudly. A server at a McDonalds commented on the “working stiffs” button I was wearing, and I gave it to her and she pinned it on immediately. I thought that was really cool.
Geosi Gyasi: What circumstances led you to become a writer?
George Dila: It was a romantic notion when I was young, something about living in a garret in Paris, hanging out with artists and artist’s models in sidewalk cafes, that kind of thing. But I couldn’t figure out how to be a writer, so I went into advertising, where I spent 40 years writing for my supper. It was a terrific education. I began writing fiction about 25 years ago.
Geosi Gyasi: You were born and raised in Detroit. Do you have any fun memories about your childhood?
George Dila: Growing up in Detroit during the 40s and 50s was terrific. We had such freedom as kids – we didn’t depend on our parents to take us here and there. We’d hop on the bus or streetcar and go where we wanted. And once in a while, we’d skip school to go see the Tigers play. But I grew up loving the big city, and although we live in a small town now, we still need to be nurtured by the big city.
Geosi Gyasi: What was your first piece of writing like?
George Dila: My very first piece of “creative writing” was for a Father’s Day essay contest in elementary school, which I won! Not much success after that for many years. Later, my first serious writing was awful. I had nothing to say and no way to say it – a bad formula for writing well.
Geosi Gyasi: Is it true that writers are boring to hang around with?
George Dila: Who said that? I love hanging around with writers. Some of my best friends are writers. Good drinkers, too.
Geosi Gyasi: What do you aim to achieve with your writing?
George Dila: Simply to write well. I love the process of writing. That’s why I do it. I love putting the words on paper, making them work (not always successfully, I might add). I try never to think beyond the writing itself. I have heard writers say that writing is torment for them, torture, they’d rather do anything else than write. To which I would say, “Are you insane? Please, stop torturing yourself. If the process of writing does not bring you pleasure, stop writing.”
Geosi Gyasi: What do you regard as your greatest achievement as a writer?
George Dila: It’s always the last story I’ve written. I don’t look for achievement beyond what is on the page.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever experienced writer’s block?
George Dila: Not really, because I am always working on several projects, and if I get stuck on one, I just go to another. And often, when I am working on a story and I’m not sure where to go next, it takes a few days for my subconscious brain to figure out the answer. I don’t consider that “blocked” because my brain is still working.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you mind telling us something about your forthcoming story, “The Squeeze”?
George Dila: Ah, The Squeeze. Elements of this story are true. I think the relationship between men and women is endlessly interesting and complicated. I love to write about it. It’s what drives the world, I think – that and the relationship of child to parent. So The Squeeze looks inside a man’s brain regarding a very simply, very transitory event.
Geosi Gyasi: How did you come to write the essay, “Smoking Dreams”?
George Dila: I smoked cigarettes for many years, and although I have not smoked a cigarette in 25 years, I still have dreams about smoking. I still miss it. I loved smoking. It had so much to do with me growing up, establishing myself as an individual. So I thought it would be a good topic to explore. Jean-Paul Sartre, when asked by an interviewer to name the most important thing in his life, replied, “I don’t know. Everything. Living. Smoking.”
Geosi Gyasi: How do you actually start a story?
George Dila: They all start differently, but what is similar about them all is that I usually have no idea where I am going beyond the first line or two.
Geosi Gyasi: What inspired your story, “Another Theory of the Universe”?
George Dila: Again, here it is the relationship between a man and a woman, or in this care, two men and a woman. These are issues that will never be exhausted. Specifically, the Omegatron was inspired by a similar dome my wife and I discovered in the California desert, called the Integratron. It was just too good not to use.
Geosi Gyasi: Is your story, “My American Dream” truly your American dream?
George Dila: I guess the point is that the American Dream is an illusion. It’s the personal dream that we either achieve or not; or, I should say, we achieve to some small measure.
Geosi Gyasi: Do you see yourself writing more books?
George Dila: I keep writing short stories, and hopefully I will have enough good ones to interest a publisher some day. But I’m not writing for that reason. I’m writing because I love to write . . . the process of writing, as I’ve said before
Geosi Gyasi: What do you do to relax when not writing?
George Dila: I am trying to learn the learn how to play the ukulele. I am taking lessons. And last year I bought a used sailboat. I’m learning how to sail it.
Geosi Gyasi: Have you ever thought of how you want to be remembered as a writer?
George Dila: Simply as someone who wrote well.