Friday Feature: Interview with Matt Lattanzi
Each week, the editors of Jenny Magazine sit down with either fellow literary magazine editors or past Jenny contributors for short interviews. This week’s interview is with Matthew Lattanzi, a past contributor of Jenny Magazine.
Describe your first publication. Where was it, when, and what was the piece about? How old were you at the time and how did it feel?
My first publication was a piece I had in the first issue of the Jenny. It was a short story called “Dreaming in Flesh.” I think I was twenty-four at the time — I could probably figure out the exact age, but math is too much work.
I remember not completely processing my excitement until I realized that people were actually reading my story without being required to. That was the most fulfilling part of it for me.
What inspired your piece in the Jenny?
The story itself was inspired by the decline of a relationship I was in. I used the story to explore some of my own thoughts and failings, which could potentially be self-indulgent, but I think the abstraction of the whole thing kept it from being too masturbatory. Nevertheless, I still ended up with a sticky keyboard.
What got you into writing?
I’ve always enjoyed being creative and reading a lot. Writing was just an extension of that for me. Plus, I crave attention and writing borderline offensive stories in school always gave me the sweet, sweet thrill of a rapt classroom.
What do you like writing the most? Is there a certain style you prefer?
I like writing short stories. I tend to get bored with ideas quickly, so it’s nice to work in a compact setting. Of course my stories do tend to be on the long side (around 8,000 words), but I stick up my middle finger to marketability. I’m like the James Dean of the amateur writing world — except I’m afraid of motorcycles and I have a receding hairline.
What are your influences? Who are your favorite writers?
Dennis Cooper is the author who sticks out most for me. I remember discovering a copy of his novel Closer shortly before I got serious about writing in college. It absolutely blew me away. He has a way of capturing states of teenage angst and ennui better than anyone else. His work is always disturbingly violent and sexual, but I argue that it’s ever gratuitous or done exclusively for shock value. He manages to take the internal states of his characters and make them visceral. Yes, horrible things happen in his novels, but I never feel like the violence is actually “happening.” Instead, the sex and death is just a manifestation of teenagers trying to discover themselves within a confusing, depressing world.
That concept is something that I try to translate to my own work. I like to use the physical actions of the plot as a way of portraying the internal worlds of the characters. It’s a big reason why I like magical realism and fabulism — they provide me license to do that.
What’s your proudest moment as an author?
Honestly, my proudest moments come when I finally complete a story. It takes a lot of work and I tend to abandon projects with far more regularity than I complete them. Every time I actually find myself finishing a story, I buy myself a box of chocolates and whisper, “You’re amazing, baby” to myself in the mirror. Occasionally I make out with my reflection, but that’s only when I get published.
How has your writing developed over time?
Over the years I’ve focused on improving two things:
1) My gaudy, overwritten prose — I’m in love with metaphors and similes and I’ve slowly worked on paring down my sentences over the years. I remember one of the first “serious” things I wrote had a five page metaphor comparing anarchy to a bullfight (or something equally ridiculous). I try not to do that as much anymore. Two pages is the new official limit on extended metaphors about anarchy.
2) My ironic distance with my work — My fantastic mentor, Christopher Barzak, has really worked with me over the years on this. He’s helped push me away from the snarky caricatures I used to solely engage with. Now, I actively try to find the emotional core of a story and steer away from genital and fart jokes. Although, I haven’t quite been able to castrate all the genital jokes in my writing because I’m not that skilled of a surgeon. …Boom! I still have it.
Are you currently working on anything?
I’m in the process of working on a Young Adult novel about nightmare worlds and I’m also slowly revising a few different short stories I have already written.
What’s your writing process?
Normally my stories begin with an image or sentence that is striking to me. I typically keep the idea in my head for a while until I can figure out what it means to me. This realization can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to a couple of years. Sometimes when I’m under pressure to produce something, I start by trying to write a narrative that works up to the image or works away from it.
What are you currently reading?
At the moment I’m going back-and-forth between Elizabeth Ellen’s collection of short stories Fast Machine and re-reading Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.
Are you a past Jenny contributor or an editor at a literary magazine and interested in an interview? Send us an email.