Fiction And Autobiography Collide In 'The Minor Outsider'
"There is a Russian-roulette effect to the storytelling that will keep readers turning the page ... impressive, focusing on life's contradictions and absurdities." -- Irish Times
The following are highlights from the conversation with Ted McDermott. For the full conversation, click the audio link above or subscribe to our podcast.
Sarah Aronson: Do you think there’s a way writers mask their authenticity with their words?
Ted McDermott: Well, I think that there’s a lot of fiction out there that is just not autobiographical in any way, and I think that’s great, but for me, I’m more interested in writing that is fiction and that connects to reality in ways that are both direct and really fraught and messy. I just am kind of drawn to that. So I guess I would say that writers don’t really hide behind their words so much as that they use language to turn life into something that is manipulable and examinable and something that they can hold in their hands ...
How long did it take for you to write the book?
I wrote the book kind of gradually as a series of short stories. I wrote it because I had recently finished this writing program at the University of Montana and I had another book that I had written that I tried to get published and had kind of a bad experience with that, anyway, it took me probably three years to write it. I didn’t know I was writing it for most of that. I just started writing short stories that were semi-autobiographical and they started to kind of come together in a strange way. So then I put them together.
What was it like to find a publisher?
It was a very strange and coincidental experience. The book was excerpted in Vice magazine, which came about somewhat strangely too. But then I thought that would help me find somebody to publish the book and I sent it around to a bunch of agents and did all that stuff and nobody wanted it. Nobody was interested in it. Then about a year later—I have, like everyone, a LinkedIn profile that I don’t use, but that just exists in the internet and one day I got a notification from them that said this editor in England looked at your LinkedIn profile. I was just desperate enough to write to that editor a funny and self-deprecating email that said “I’m sure I seem desperate because I probably am, but I hope that maybe you saw this excerpt in Vice magazine and you’re interested and that’s why you looked at my profile.” And she wrote back and said, “I have no idea who you are, I don’t remember even clicking on your profile, but I just read your excerpt and it’s great, so send me the rest of your book.” And then they decided to buy it and publish it. Then it came out in England, which was weird.
Right! That’s what I want to know. What’s it like to have the book come out in the United Kingdom and not America first?
Well, yeah, I’ve never even set foot in the United Kingdom so it’s kind of like it came out on the moon. It didn’t feel real in a lot of ways. It was great and I feel extremely fortunate that this book got published at all, and it got some nice reviews and things like that, but I never had that experience of walking in a bookstore and seeing it. A lot of my friends were not able to buy it. Now that it’s coming out in the US . . . really the best part is just that people I know or like or have been friends with can read it and talk to me about it.
About the Book:
Ed and Taylor, both aspiring young writers, fall in love during a summer of aimless drinking and partying in their university town of Missoula, Montana. Lonely and looking for love, they connect despite their profound differences: Ed is brooding, ambitious and self-destructive, living in denial of a mysterious tumour spreading from his limbs to his brain. Beautiful Taylor is positive, full of hope and emotional generosity, but like everyone, she has her limits. Their difficult relationship is intense, exciting yet doomed from the start, complicated further when Taylor falls pregnant. As Ed resists the harmony she brings to his life, Taylor's need to protect herself and their child also grows, until a dramatic finale.
Ted McDermott's stark book speaks truthfully and with a touch of dark humor for and to today's generation of young people trying to find hope in what feels to many like an existential void. The Minor Outsider will be read as the young literary voice of our dark times.
About the Author:
Ted McDermott was born in Delaware in 1982, grew up in South Carolina. He has worked as a cook, a mover, a baker, a college instructor, an encyclopedist and a reporter for an alternative weekly. His fiction and non-fiction have appeared in VICE, Believer, Portland Review, Minus Times and elsewhere. In 2009, he was nominated for The Essay Prize. The Minor Outsider is his first novel.