In 2011, we published Eric Nelson’s short story “A Drink Among Friends.” Four years later, that story is one of several in Leverage, Nelson’s new collection, released earlier this year on King Shot Press. Full of visceral glimpses into recent history, and featuring an array of flawed and sometimes violent characters, Leverage makes for a memorable read. I checked in with Nelson via email to learn more about his working process, the origin of some of the stories in the collection, and more.
How did you end up settling on Leverage as the title?
The title Leverage was the second idea I had for the title, the first being Collected Stories of Eric Nelson, Volume 2, since my first collection was The Silk City Series five years ago. After some back and forth with my editor at King Shot Press, Michael Kazepis, I came up with the title Leverage. It’s a literal title, I was hoping to gain leverage with this book career-wise and on a personal level to finish a novel I’ve been stuck in and putting off for years, something completely different from anything I’ve written or had published so far.
Was the process of sequencing these stories difficult?
Fortunately it wasn’t, my editor took care of that! Ha. The only thing I knew for sure was that the story “Gulf Coast Deep Game” would be first because I’m aware enough to know that it was the strongest out of the collection.
Several of the stories in Leverage are set several decades in the past. What made you opt for this timeframe–and how do you generally work references to the time a story is set into the story without it feeling too forced?
With a few exceptions, for the most part I’m usually not interested in writing stories set in present-day. When I come up with an idea for a story it generally starts with something I just can’t get out of my head and sometimes that can be an event in a specific place, like Mischief Night 1991 in Camden, NJ, which was the initial inspiration for “The Walt Whitman House.” From there it evolves into the story being about something bigger. I often feel the need to put a distance between myself and the story and time can be a big help. I grew up watching as many movies as I read books so when I start writing a story I tend to storyboard it in my mind, bit by bit.
I looked at academic journal articles on bloodsport and dogfighting, as well as Wikipedia entries on regional types of barbecue and Hurricane Betsy for “Gulf Coast Deep Game” even though the latter two are mentioned only in passing. I also studied maps of the area on Google for both stories. If a small detail makes it come alive to myself then I hope it does the same for the reader. The other thing with time and place that I pay attention to is regional dialect, which is difficult because many are starting to slowly disappear now. If you screw that up it can sound cartoonish at best and stereotyping at worst.
Did you do any revisions of these stories for the collection?
Almost all of these stories were previously published and revised by editors, but yes there were some additional revisions, although very little.
What’s next for you?
So far this year I’ve switched gears and have been writing a lot of book and film criticism. I’m currently working on a piece about the film “The Education of Sonny Carson” that’s based on the black activist’s memoir of his life before he was accused of murder. I also want to finish a novel manuscript I’ve been working on for years that’s a satire on stunted adolescence and gentrification in the Northeast and a partial allegory of the Financial Collapse of 2008. The working title is The Tragedy of Common Sense.