Doug Crandell’s essay “Show Day” appeared in our June 2019 issue. We asked him about masculinity, memory, and what it was like to see his book highlighted on a popular Netflix series. His most recent novel is They’re Calling You Home. You can read more of his work in our archive.
Your new essay, like a lot of the ones you’ve shared with us, deals with issues of family, masculinity, and class. Are these things you talk openly about in your family, or are they subjects you mostly work through in your writing?
Our family, like most I believe, doesn’t talk directly about their essential wounds. Memories and stories are filtered through the time we spent living and working together. I’m a writer and a part of a blue-collar family, so I wouldn’t say I’m working through issues but rather preserving the stories that best highlight our labors and loves.
While we might talk about a specific union contract and strike, or farm injuries, or a time when the crops were ruined by weather, we don’t say, “Hey, let’s talk about what manhood means.”
At the heart of “Show Day” is a touching relationship between your adolescent self and a calf, destined for slaughter. Since you have a hobby farm now, do you keep a lot of animals? Have you been careful about the ones you’ve let your kids — or yourself — get attached to?
On our sweet little hobby farm, we are fortunate to live with creatures we do not have to rely on to make us money for food and shelter. The sheep, goats, chickens, ducks, dogs, cats, and whatever else finds us are rescues. Everyone has a name. While it still hurts to lose them, we know we are bettered by the souls around us.
How do you decide which events from your past would make for a good essay? Are these memories that have stayed with you since they happened, or do you have to do some excavating as you piece together the essay?
I keep several journals with notes related to what I’d like to write about. Sometimes, when I’m journaling, I write in the margin something like: “Why have I not written about this?” Some of the most intriguing pieces, to me at least, come from that realization. I like doing research, quizzing my family, sorting through photos, and even checking historical weather reports.
More than a few of us here are enamored with the titles of your books: The Flawless Skin of Ugly People, Hairdos of the Mildly Depressed, and so on. What makes a good title for you?
I’m a terrible title creator! The Flawless Skin of Ugly People (a title I think is perfect) came from an editor. I had titled the novel The Lost Children of the Tabernacle. See what I mean?
One of those books was spotted on the television show Orange Is the New Black. Did you know that was coming? What was the reaction?
It was The Flawless Skin of Ugly People. You can see the still shots on my website. I’d watched and admired the show, and I knew it had highlighted books on camera in previous episodes, but I didn’t know about mine being on it until someone sent me an e-mail.
I received many more e-mails about my book being on TV than I did when it was published.