lifes’● Author’s short stories capture voices of ‘low
MICHAEL BOTUR’S self-published book of short stories, Low
Life, has that title for a good reason.
He has populated some of his stories with people many of us would have trouble identifying with, but they’re fascinating to meet for the first time. They’re not all “low lifes” themselves, but they often find themselves in situations beneath the norm. Their job is to rise, with the author’s help.
There’s the rock fan — we never know his name — who laminates kitset furniture. He quits his job because this cool rock chick on the radio says it’s what he should do and he spends the rest of the story coping with “fame” and no money and waiting for that opportunity to be a roadie for Metallica.
Or the straight, married guy on good money with a house and mortgage who thinks he could be happy with a woman who lives one day at a time and sometimes can’t remember his name.
And then there’s the 60-yearold arthritic grandmother who discovers illegal pain relief and a source of income.
There are 16 stories in all, every one well-crafted and they are all well worth the read. Even among all the bad language and explicit sex talk, there are prosaic gems and beautiful phrasing. And the characters are real. Whatever they do seems normal, everyday, just not our everyday. If they get in trouble it’s because that’s what they do and it’s certainly not their fault. It’s just the natural way of things.
This is Michael Botur’s fourth book of short stories and he seems in no danger of running out of ideas. I asked Michael a few questions:
Your characters are as diverse as their situations. How many are based on people you know?
Most characters are composites. I take qualities from a couple of people and combine them. Sometimes the physical description of a person will match the body of the person a character is based on, but there is lots of mixing up. Plenty of characters are exaggerated aspects of my personality.
You’ve worked a few jobs where you got more than a few ideas. Did you ever feel the way your characters do, or did the situation just give you an idea?
The thoughts that go through my characters’ heads are thoughts that have mostly gone through my head — however, not every thought sticks! An impulse which seems ridiculous to one person can seem like profound inspiration to another person. The story Rock or Bust was inspired when I was listening to The Rock one morning and some tradie rang up the DJ to brag that he had just walked out on his job. We all think about storming out of our jobs at some point; many of my stories ask what happens when a person gets a motivation and follows that all the way to the end.
How long have you been writing and where did you learn to write fiction?
I started out as a poet at university age 20, in 2004. In my class at Otago, a couple of people were dabbling in fiction and I wanted to keep up. Fiction allows you to tell stories on a far bigger canvas. I really started taking on a distinct voice from about 2008 when I stopped writing short 500-word weird prose pieces for literary journals and determined to obey the laws of short story writing — that is, a short story really needs to be about 2000-5000 words. I was very privileged to have literary journals like Bravado and
Takahe publish my weird short pieces between 2005-2008.
You write in an interesting mix of almost illiterate vernacular (sometimes) and cleverly crafted words. Does that skill come from reading?
I get obsessed with lots of fiction writers, journalists and other kinds of wordsmiths like rappers. Also in my life, I rub shoulders with lots of people who talk in lots of different styles. It’s essential to be a good listener, so I’m always hearing the voices of crims, druggies, intellectuals, radicals, executives, children, old people, DJs, writers and non-writers, all mixed together. Also, many people in our world are bilingual, and it’s useful to hear fresh, creative constructions of English.
Have you tried a mainstream publisher . . . or is that a rude question?
Mainstream publishers in NZ explicitly say they’re not keen on publishing short stories.
Where would I buy your books? Are they available outside Unity where provincial hayseeds like me can buy them off the shelf?
At www.NZShortStories.com you can place your order for a copy of Lowlife and I’ll post it directly to you, even if you’re broke and can’t pay for a while. Also Amazon.com.
AUTHOR: Michael Botur Low Life: Short Stories by Michael Botur.