Dinty W. Moore is the author of the memoir Between Panic & Desire (University of Nebraska), winner of the Grub Street Nonfiction Book Prize in 2008. He also has written two other creative nonfiction books, The Accidental Buddhist and The Emperor’s Virtual Clothes, a collection of short stories, Toothpick Men, and the writing guide, Crafting the Personal Essay: A Guide for Writing and Publishing Creative Nonfiction. He has published essays and stories in The Southern Review, The Georgia Review, Harpers, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Gettysburg Review, Utne Reader, Crazyhorse, The Philadelphia Inquirer Magazine, The Normal School, Black Warrior Review, Fourth Genre, Gulf Coast, Iron Horse, and Chautauqua, among others. He teaches in the creative nonfiction PhD program at Ohio University and the MFA low-residency program at the University of New Orleans’ Edinburgh, Scotland Summer Writing Workshops. He also has taught in the MFA low-residency program at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, Pa. In addition, he serves an ex-officio Board Advisor for The Association of Writers and Writing Programs, edits Brevity, the on-line journal of concise creative nonfiction. He is a recipient of grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. In addition to writing, Dinty is an avid photographer and budding illustrator. Dinty and his wife, Renita Romasco, the woman who caught his eye as he passed by on a bicycle, live in Ohio.
Q1: How would you describe your book’s structure, in terms of the varied chapters, the playfulness with the quizzes and information amidst a serious look at our culture in the past forty years?
The book was written during a time that I was very interested in experimental structure and the classic question “does form shape meaning or does meaning shape form?” So I deliberately incorporated as many different forms as I could make fit, without, I hope, becoming chaotic. I worked hard to make the puzzle pieces connect to create a coherent whole. I hope that my efforts were successful, but there is no doubt that in the end it is a very quirky book. The book is humorous, too, so much of what I do with form is playful, at times even tongue-in-cheek.
Q2: Also, is there anything that you would want to say re: how you came to write such a book?
I wanted to write a ‘cultural, generational’ memoir, meaning that instead of just capturing my life and the various influences that shaped who I am, I attempted to catch those influences and factors that shaped many of us who lived through the 60s, 70s, and 1980s, and to see how these cultural forces also shaped the world we now live in, and our perception of the world we now live in. It came, I suppose, from the initial instinct that just “my life’ would not be interesting enough, but it ended up becoming a fascinating and captivating project. For the author at least. Readers will have to decide for themselves.
Q3: In playing with your book’s structure, with each of the chapters written in slightly or extremely different forms, is there one that was particularly fun for you to write?
The chapter that looks at the Beatles, Charles Manson, and John Lennon’s obsession with the number nine was perhaps not fun, but fascinating. It seems the more you pull at something, the more connections you find, and that was the case here. I learned a lot.
Q4: You integrate fiction, or fictionalized scenes, in your memoir. Is this a break from what we know as memoir being truthful story about one’s life?
Well, it is my hope that a savvy reader will be fully aware of when I am lapsing into imagination – the phone call with Tricia Nixon for instance – and when I am sticking to observable truth. I am no fan of a memoir that take events that never happened, that the author knows never happened, and tries to pass the fictionalized events off as “what happened.” My book — and again, this is my hope, others must judge – tiptoes the line between playful imagining/speculation and outright fibbing pretty clearly and stays on the playful side. It is all in what signals you send the reader and what you make clear to the reader. To say, “I imagined this,” and then to tell what you imagined is nonfiction – you really imagined that. But the reader must be in on the nature of things.
Q5: In addition to being a creative writer, you are a photographer, but are you also an illustrator? (Did you draw the pictures of the bodies in the autopsy chapter? – Nice job, if so!)
Yes I drew them, but I think they are rather crude and laughably primitive. Thanks for the compliment all the same.
Q6: How was it to win the Grub Street Prize in 2008 for your book?
A distinctly pleasant honor.
Q7: You are currently teaching in an MFA program in Scotland – how is it and how is it different from teaching in the US?
Well, most of the students are Americans or American ex-pats and the program is associated with the University of New Orleans, so in that way it is not so different. But being in a vibrant, European city such as Edinburgh certainly exposes you to a richness of culture and being exposed to unfamiliar stimuli is good for any artist.
Q8: With all of the work that you do – as teacher and editor as well as a volunteer – how do you find the time to write and publish as much as you do?
I ask myself the same question. I’m overscheduled, almost always. Even here in Scotland I’m on the laptop juggling countless balls back at home. I wouldn’t mind if it all slowed down a bit, frankly.
Q9: What else would you like to say about this book, your life as a writer, teacher, or life in general?
I’m lucky to have this life, one of constant intellectual stimulation, new challenges, great friends who also happen to be brilliant storytellers. Very lucky indeed.