Kevin Hardcastle thinks you’re a-ok! Phew!
Read (and listen to!) Kevin Hardcastle’s fantastic story “Bandits” in Issue XXI: Spring 2013 of The Puritan here.
The Puritan: Hi Kevin Hardcastle! Does your story have an interesting origin story/compositional history you’d like to share? This could include interesting factoids or bits of research that informed the work.
Kevin Hardcastle: The most interesting thing about the origin of this story, the history of it, is that the crime in it actually happened. A bunch of guys from around Simcoe County would get together and rob these rural liquor stores, which were actually often no more than a trailer, or portable, whatever you want to call it, and they would make their getaway on their snowmobiles, which made it awful tough for the police to track them down. A lot of the stories I’ve been writing lately are based on things that happened up north when I was growing up, or stories you would hear told over and over, evolving by each telling. And, of course, you end up re-imagining aspects of them based on what you remember of it, or what suits the story, without actually following the real histories. Never let the truth get in the way of a good yarn, right?
I actually recall sitting there drinking beers at my buddy’s house of a weekend (and he lived in what you’d consider the wrong side of the tracks in my hometown, if there is such a place there), and he brought out the local paper after these guys got pinched for the robberies. He read off their names and pointed out where they lived, most of them right in his neighbourhood. You take these things for granted and years later they come swimming up to the surface. As I’ve hit this latest patch of short story writing I’ve had a number of stories just crop up, one after another, all of them based on some nugget of very real and very absurd rural history. Small town Ontario is stranger than fiction sometimes, I guess. I even remember hearing a story of a different set of crooks that tried to flat-out tow a liquor store trailer away on their snowmobiles. I don’t think they got all that far, but my God is it amazing.
The P: What was it influenced by? (i.e., were you listening/watching something when you began to write? Were you in a meeting or class at the time? Was it after a film, art show, concert? Were you on drugs?)
Kevin Hardcastle: As a far as being compelled to write the thing, or to start planning this run of short fiction, I had just finished my second novel, and have been waiting for some brave soul to take a chance on it. As I’ve learned from past experience, sitting on your ass and waiting is the worst possible idea. And every time I get into a serious stretch of short story writing I come out a better writer. So I started plotting out a number of stories like this one, and then got down to writing them.
I’ve been influenced or inspired by a bunch of excellent writers who cover this sort of ground in whatever place they’re from. Specifically, with short stories, I was recently reading and re-reading stories from Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, Donald Ray Pollock’s Knockemstiff, and Daniel Woodrell’s The Outlaw Album. That is a masterclass on how to right real, worthwhile short stories right there. And those guys prove you can still produce the highest caliber of short fiction while working with these kinds of outlaw/tough guy materials.
The Puritan: Tell us the best thing you’ve read lately, or a writer you’re jealous of, or a short story you wish you wrote.
The Outlaw Album
Kevin Hardcastle: The best thing I’ve read lately was Woodrell’s The Outlaw Album. I’ve read the vast majority of Woodrell’s novels, and there are few out there who can touch the man when it comes to long form fiction. I hadn’t read any of his short stories before, but they have all the same ingredients of his novels, but boiled down to the bone like all good short fiction. “Uncle” and “Twin Forks” and “Returning the River” are standouts that come to mind from that collection.
I don’t know if I’m in the minority on this or not, but when I’m writing intensively I don’t read a whole lot, to be honest. I find that if I pick up a book that I don’t like it can to sour me on the whole process, or I end up getting held up on every line I might’ve written a different way. On the other hand, if I go back to something I swear by, like a Cormac McCarthy novel, too much of that style and cadence slides into my own work, and it is already sort of being robbed from to begin with.
There are few living writers that I really admire, most prominently McCarthy and Woodrell, Alistair MacLeod, Thomas McGuane, as well as a handful of other likewise gifted authors. So ruminating on that kind of work really lights a fire under my ass to do what I can to cover the ground that they have, to try my best to one day get mentioned in the same sentence as some of those writers I look up to. I guess maybe if I was jealous it would be of careers or of legacies, in that some of these guys have finally been recognized for their significant skills after years of struggling and grinding. And I’m still in that grind trying to get to do this for a living.
Kevin Hardcastle is a fiction writer from Simcoe County, Ontario. He has also lived in Birkenhead, Cardiff, and Edmonton. He has studied writing at the University of Toronto and at Cardiff University. Hardcastle’s short stories have been published in Word Riot, subTerrain Magazine, The Malahat Review, and Little Fiction. He is represented by Meggie Macdonald at Transatlantic Literary Agency, and his first two novels are on offer with them. An excerpt from his second novel, Work, was published in Noir Nation: International Journal of Crime Fiction. He currently lives in the west end of Toronto.