Short Mean Fiction….

Short Mean Fiction….

Photo credit: Janet Donovan
Slider photo courtesy of gardenandgun.com

“I wanted to be an artist before I knew what it was,” author, artist Bill Dunlap told Hollywood on the Potomac at a book party in his honor at the home of journalist, author Myra MacPherson. “My family, to their ever-lasting credit, didn’t discourage me, just got me the materials. I’m a victim or a product of the public schools of Mississippi so was not threatened by art courses. I just drew and painted and looked. I don’t know if there’s a visual equivalent to perfect pitch or not, but if there is I know my sight always overrode everything else.”

“I’m driving down the road, little eyes come right over the backseat of the car. I’d just look out into the woods and imagine myself floating out into it,” he said recalling his early childhood. “I saw everything. I looked. I was thought to be afflicted because I didn’t speak till I was 3 or 4 years old. Hell, I didn’t have anything to say! Once I learned to, I haven’t shut up.”

Bill Dunlap

Bill Dunlap

We can vouch for that. Dunlap had plenty to say, beginning with his new book: Short Mean Fiction. “What’s going on here is this book is having a life of its own. I say all that needs to be said in the introduction, about where these stories came from. What the introduction says is: ‘Artists keep sketchbooks. Mine, more than four decades worth, are filled with visual short-hand. There are drawings and ideas for things, sculptures and installations, along with phone numbers, grocery lists and things to do. And, of course, mindless doodles. I find critiques of my work sometimes harsh. Alongside welcome fragments of dialogue, next to drafts and outlines for fiction, these hybrid sketchbooks/journals have recently, as if of their own volition, come down from a high shelf in my studio to a table within easy reach. From time to time, out of curiosity, I open one. The working drawings are viable, the rants at times amusing, but it’s the vein of narrative that rushes up from the page like a charged found object that interests me most. When asked, I call what I do ‘hypothetical realism’. The places and things I paint are not real, but they could be. The same holds true for Short Mean Fiction. None of what I’ve written really happened, but it could have. Like tales from the Old Testament, these stories are mean, rampant with sex, violence, and death. They are all figments of an active, if not fertile imagination, and brevity may be their greatest joy. They are fictions through and through, and so the disclaimer be needed, consider it made. The drawings scattered throughout the volume are not illustrations but live in the same place, the sketchbooks, where I first wrote the stories, forgot them, and then found them again. To my mind, that’s what can be twisted. As with painting, I feel a little proud of authorship and make no literary claims for Short Mean Fiction.’ For what it’s worth, for better or for worse and to my utter of surprise, there are many, many more where these goddamned things came from.”

Short Mean Fiction

Dunlap is an artist, arts commentator and educator whose paintings, sculpture and constructions are included in collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Corcoran Gallery of Art, the United States State Department and US Embassies throughout the world.  This is not his first book; that was one he did with William Morris back in the  ’90’s from the University Press of Mississippi, but this is the first volume of fiction that he’s written because “Hell, I didn’t know I’d written it. I just found it, and I showed it to a publisher, and he liked it, and I’ve been very lucky in that regard. These stories came out of Siri; if I hadn’t gotten an iPhone 6, and I didn’t bring these sketchbooks down and open them up and send myself an email and edit, and send myself another email and edit, and send it to my wife Linda who’s a great line editor and edit, and send it to Ken DeCell and edit, and send it to friends like Sandra Beasley to tell me what they think – sometimes they said nothing – then I wouldn’t have a book because it’s a collaborative process. This book is about a designer, and it’s about my stories and drawings that I didn’t choose. It’s totally about people other than me, and I’m having nothing but fun. Hell, I’ve written a second volume.  I’ve written 2 more sections now, so it’s a little small novel now. What do they call that – novella? So, Short Mean Fiction is the first volume. I think Flat Limp Flacid will be the next volume. I have great, great friends who are writers. They’ve always been very nice to me. Sandra Beasley gave me a great blurb. When I thought the book was going to have a dust jacket, I got Winston Groom to give me a blurb. Lee Smith gave me a blurb, and I’m having such a good time with this thing my glorious wife who’s the best editor I know said, ‘Bill, has it possibly occurred to you that one of the reasons your writer friends are being so generous with you is they don’t see you as a threat?’ Of course, being a man, I don’t think like that.”

Bill Dunlap and Mayra MacPherson

Bill Dunlap and Myra MacPherson

Q: It’s hard to make a living as an artist. How did you manage to do, we asked?  A: “I give a lot of credit to my family. They knew I would amount to something. They figured I’d be okay. I’m totally a product of the university system. I’ve got an MBA in ’69. I came out of that place like a feral animal  and I taught at the University of North Carolina’s Appalachian State campus for a decade. I came of age in the mountains of North Carolina, was showing in New York and in Boston and getting out, and I just stepped out into the commercial world, the real world, as I call it in about 1980. I’ve never really looked back.There’s been some lean years, but hey, I’m getting away with it, and at 72, I make me the best art of my life, and that’s the truth.”

Q: If you were to draw a picture for your tombstone, what would it be?  A: “Oh, hell, I have no idea. I’m going to be cremated and cut into a gram, an ounce of cocaine, and all my friends do me up. I’m still an ’80s guy.”

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