Interview with Phil Mershon

Describe your desk
Because I always have multiple projects going on, my desk has been declared a controlled disaster area. One coffee, one Coke bottle, one glass of juice, desk lamp, stack of papers that never made it to the in-box, too few papers in the out-box, several pair of eyeglasses (none quite proper), a silver cup of antidepressants, post-it note pads, pens with the caps chewed, cell phone--all of this throbbing atop a translucent picnic table that takes up half the dining room.
Where did you grow up, and how did this influence your writing?
Growing up in Circleville, Ohio impacted my need to be a writer. I remember the town as being friendly, yet with a strong sense of competition. I wasn't a jock, I was never going to make the honor roll (I think it happened once and that was a clerical error), I couldn't paint or draw, I didn't know anything about cars, and because I didn't have an in with any of those things, I couldn't develop connections to get decent drugs. The only thing I did with confidence was write. At first I did it just to amuse the other students. After a while I did it to antagonize the faculty. I was fairly good at it.
When did you first start writing?
When I was eleven, I took sick and missed school for a few months. We had a tutor come in twice a week. The rest of the time I stayed in bed writing what my family called my "Idiot magazines." I drew badly formed cartoon people and gave the drawings ridiculous captions, then stapled bunches together. Once I got well, I tossed them in people's mailboxes anonymously.
What's the story behind your latest book?
It's twenty-three short stories and what I think of as "dialogues." The stories represent my sense of the absurd when it comes to proper writing, meaning that there's an element of suspense that is often simple misdirection, while the dialogues, it is fair to say, are some mad humor--totally insane, yet not without a wink and a nudge. The book begins with a story I wrote on a bet in fifteen minutes. I had been talking about "editing as I work" with a college professor and she challenged me to write a story that would stand on its own without editing. What's published here has a bit of polish, I'll admit. But it's very close to the original. Bottom line: I won the bet.
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Putting the last period at the end of the last sentence.
What do your fans mean to you?
They mean a great deal. In one way they offer a kind of validation most writers probably need. In another sense, I have tried to maintain correspondence with people who have been nice enough to reach out to me. When someone encourages me to keep at it or to write another one "like that," I get happy. Ultimately, my biggest fan is Lisa Ann, often referred to on my website ( as my "Long Suffering Roommate." She is also my harshest editor. She can isolate any weakness that I try to slip through. She'll stomp on it until I have to save the damned thing's life by writing it the correct way.
What are you working on next?
Because Lisa Ann and I also develop websites, a lot of our time goes into that. I have dozens of projects that are seventy-five percent finished.
Who are your favorite authors?
Harlan Ellison, Lester Bangs, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Philip Roth, Hannah Arendt, Jane Smiley, George Orwell, Dorothy Parker, Raymond Chandler, Adrienne Rich.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
Two things: Fear of dying before I get everything finished and joy of dreaming up more things to add to that list.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
I love jazz and rock music. I love talking with friends. I enjoy sunshine.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
The first good story I ever wrote was called "The Stay Free Bachelor Pad." Lost to posterity, I'm sorry to say.
Published 2014-08-09.
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