Vending Machine Press Presents Interview with Steve Passey

What was your early life like? Where did you grow up?

I grew up in Barnwell, Alberta (Canada) – the population was 380 people or so. Hot in the summer, cold in the winter. Everyone farmed or worked in agricultural services, or in oil and gas. We’d try and score a case of beer on the weekends and dodge the RCMP on the back roads, and we’d pray that the old bus didn’t break down fifty miles from nowhere on hockey road trips in the dead of winter when the temperature outside would hit -40c with the windchill.

What made you want to write?

I can’t point to any one specific thing. I always read a lot, I always wanted to write. I had written a few stories at one point, and shown them to family and friends, but that’s it. Eventually I was working out of town and saw a flyer for continuing education courses at Mount Royal University in Calgary – one of the course listings was for creative writing. I took that course and  soon enough started submitting for publication.

What are your writing habits like? Are you always working on a story or poem?

I write/edit/submit virtually every day. I think my daily word count has varied from 1 to 4,000 and all points in between.

Can you discuss your literary influences, or at least name some writers whose work you greatly admire?

So many. For me it starts with Borges, O’Connor, Michael Ondaatje, Alice Munro, Shirley Jackson, Cormac McCarthy, but would include R.E. Howard and Tolkein too. Although not “literary” in a traditional sense I am a great admirer of comics/graphic novels too. Garth Ennis for sure, Alan Moore, Frezzatto, Jodorowsky, Richard Corben. I could expand this list easily and feel bad about anyone I may have omitted.

How important is community amongst fellow writers, do you get along with other writers?

I think it’s invaluable to me. I get along well with writers of every kind. My first readers/beat readers have been of a tremendous help to me – and many of these are the people I met in the creative writing classes I took at Mount Royal. The instructor I had, Lori Hahnel, is a well-regarded Canadian writer and has been a great help to me. That said, some people do fine alone and at the end (or the beginning) of the day it’s just you and the keyboard or whatever you write on and you are going to have to do that part by yourself. Whatever gets your ass in the chair and typing – it’s all good.

If you haven’t already, do you think you will ever write a novel?

I’ll have a presentable draft of my first novel done by year-end. For me the short story is my first love but some stories lend themselves to the novel form and truthfully, I think if you are going to write “commercially” you’ll need to write novels (or perhaps screenplays/scripts) because that’s the format by which most literature is bought and sold.

Do you feel a sense of home? Is there a place like that to you?

Nah, not really. As long as I have a place to write, a gym membership, beer in the fridge, and the kids/dogs around that’s home. I haven’t actually moved a lot in life but my sense of “place” has come from the people in my life more so than my address.

Do you have any writing rituals or superstitions, before you start to write?

Not really. I often listen to music (I’m a rock and roll kind of guy) but sometimes I’ll have the weather channel or sports highlights on the the background. I rarely write in silence – between my better half and I we have four kids from age 22 to 17 along with two dogs and a full-grown corn snake named “Sugarplum.” Someone is always coming/going/barking along the fence at the neighbor’s dogs. I don’t need “prefect conditions” to write. (At least the snake is quiet.)

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

Neither – although I was tempted to lean toward “energize” – it always feels good to complete a piece and then later, see it published. I try and be workmanlike and just work at writing. Same as you would at a 9-5 or when completing your workout at the gym or whatever. I find the submission/rejection/publication cycling more tiresome than the actually writing. I am sure I am not alone in that regard. There is a lot of “hurry-up and wait” in this business – and it’s not a very business-like business at times.

Are you a science fiction fan? If so what attracts you to the genre?

I am a science fiction fan – the genre has always lent itself to exploring our psychology and souls without the restraints of “reality” based fiction.

Do you think literature can help readers make sense of their lives?

Absolutely. In fact, it’s the best way to try and make sense of our lives.  As Stephen King said: “Fiction is the truth inside the lie”

How autobiographical are your stories/poems?

Not very. Some have a kernel or grain of “real-life” to them – for example, in my piece “Out on The Eastern Slopes” published by Vending Machine Press the coyote-skinning story is a “true” story passed down through the family but none of the rest is. Also, some of these real-life kernels are instructive or illustrative of some thing or other in my stories but are not necessarily the backbone of the plot.

I would be remiss if I did not ask. What is your favourite films and TV shows?

This like my “favorite writers” list in that I could go on and on. I actually don’t watch a ton of TV with the exception of sports – I’m a big fan of the Oakland Raiders of the NFL and try not to miss a game. I watch Ancient Aliens as much as anything – I don’t know that I agree with the premise of that show but the presentation is something every writer could learn from. Movies? Of late I’d say that Star Wars “Rogue One” was fantastic, The most recent reincarnation of “The Mummy” not that fantastic, “Patterson” was very good – and those are just off the top of my head. I’m actually not a move snob, on road trips my kids and I can entertain ourselves by repeating the lines from “Stepbrothers” almost word for word. I just watched “Brokeback Mountain” for the very first time and thought it very good. It was filmed near where I live – as was Terrence Malick’s “Days of Heaven.” Ditto “The Revenant” actually. I could go on and on about movies.

Are you political? What do you think of the current political climate?

I have a passing interest in politics but that’s all. The current political climate seems to be to be very polarized, very dogmatic, and overrun with 2nd rate polemicists and humorless scolds alternately taunting each other or shrieking into the void via social media.

How do hope your stories/poems will affect people?

Firstly, I hope that they entertain. Secondly, I hope that they provide, in some small way, some illumination or epiphany – some “aha” moment where the reader thinks “I know exactly what this means!”


Returning Vending Machine Press contributor Steve Passey is originally from Southern Alberta. He is the author of the short-story collection “Forty-Five Minutes of Unstoppable Rock” (Tortoise Books, coming in August 2017) and a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee for fiction. His fiction and poetry have appeared in more than forty publication worldwide, both print and electronic

1 Comment »