Your Monday doesn’t have to be blue—just check out this interview with Jeffrey Condran, author of the short story collection A Fingerprint Repeated, to perk yourself up! Jeff talks to Press 53 about his favorite stories and the personal significance of Cyrano de Bergerac, below.
P53: When did you first decide you wanted to be a writer?
JC: I had always loved books and reading, and like many only children, found an outlet to a larger world through books.It was maybe natural to want to be a writer then, but the real moment of decision came in college. For years the people in my life advised me toward more practical careers—business, the law—but ultimately they weren’t for me. So at the last minute one semester, I decided to take the plunge and become a writing major. Nearly all the creative writing classes were closed, but thanks to a glitch in the registration system, I was able to enroll in Kathleen George’s Playwriting class without any of the prerequisites. When she discovered that I had no experience as a writer, she told me I’d have to drop the class. I traveled home dejected and a little freaked out because the add/drop period had ended and I no longer had enough classes for full-time financial aid. So, I decided to go back and beg. I arrived just before the class went on break and Professor George, thinking I had been waiting outside the whole time in some grand show of dedication, took pity on me and let me sit the class. It felt vaguely providential, and from that moment I haven’t looked back from the writing life.The class was wonderful, especially for writing dialogue, and Kathy George has gone on to write a series of well-received Richard Christie detective novels set it Pittsburgh.
P53: What are some of your favorite short stories and short story collections?
JC: I am, without question, a complete devotee to James Salter. His story collections Dusk and Other Stories and Last Night have the ability to horrify the reader with their examination of our humanity while at the same time enchant us with the lyrical beauty of the prose. He is, for me, the absolute master. Perhaps my all-time favorite story is Salter’s “American Express.” There’s no way, though, that I could have become a story writer myself without the work of Richard Ford, Andre Dubus, and Tobias Wolff. All these men! Which is funny because lately my favorite stories are by Amina Gautier, Caitlin Horrocks, and Laura Van Den Berg. I’m thinking of At-Risk, This is Not Your City, and What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, respectively. Oh, there are so many. My answer to this question could go on and on!
P53: What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
JC: I was teaching the other day and noticed that all my students had these very personalized earbuds lying on their desks—different colors, different styles. They made my plain white ones seem pretty boring, so I mentioned this to them.
This one young woman said, “Yeah, mine are from Victoria’s Secret. They have little dogs on them.” To which another student replied, “Sure, you want your earbuds to match your panties.”
It was an interesting class.
P53: Do you have a favorite book-to-film (or TV) adaptation? How about a least favorite?
JC: I’m often a fan of Roman Polanski’s films. A few years back he did a film adaptation of the Spanish writer Arturo Perez-Reverte’s novel, The Club Dumas. The film is called The Ninth Gate and stars Johnny Depp, who plays the role of Dean Corso, a self-described “book detective.” Very cool film. I don’t think I have a least favorite, meaning only that I don’t go to see an adaptation of a novel with expectations that it will be “like the book.” They are different mediums with different narrative needs. Usually I’m just impressed that films based on books ever manage to get made.
P53: Inspiration or perspiration?
JC: Perspiration. Absolutely. When I was in graduate school, I had a great conversation with Richard Ford about who makes it as a writer and who doesn’t. He said, it’s rarely the “stars” of writing programs that go on to be published. Many who demonstrate talent and charisma when they’re young hit a wall—everyone does—but if you’ve had too much success too soon it’s likely you won’t develop the fortitude to persist when things get difficult. Writing prose is a marathon, not a sprint. It takes true dedication.
Three Facts About Jeff:
1. My wife and I own what’s called a “lemon” Dalmatian. The dogs are just like regular Dalmatians except that they have a slight genetic “defect” that makes their spots smaller and a sort of yellow-brown color. They are the perfect dogs for adopting as those unusual spots make them less desirable to those looking for pure-bred Dalmatians. She’s almost four now, and her name is—wait for it—Miss Lemon, after the secretary in Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot mysteries. We continue to try to instill the same level of organization in her life as that of her namesake.
2. When I was an undergraduate at the University of Pittsburgh, I discovered Jean-Paul Rappeneau’s version of Cyrano de Bergerac starring Gerard Depardieu, Anne Brochet, and Vincent Perez. The film was running at The Pittsburgh Playhouse, an ornate theatre that had been converted to show artsy films. It was the first film I’d ever seen with subtitles, and any French I know I learned from this production. I also fell a little in love with the actress who played Roxane, Anne Brochet. Okay, perhaps more than a little bit in love—I saw the film in the theatre seven times. It got to the point where I had memorized whole exchanges of dialogue in French. My favorite, and the moment that I’ve taken with me for the rest of my life is Cyrano’s death scene. To paraphrase now, Cyrano says that the best fight is the one we know is in vain, the one we know we will lose. And so what’s important, more than anything, is the gesture we make in those circumstances. It’s a little fatalistic, perhaps, but it’s also a beautiful idea.
3. When looking at a book for the first time, I immediately turn to the back to where the author photo and bio is located. My wife thinks this is weird; I think she’s confused.