About Eric Shonkwiler
Eric Shonkwiler has had writing appear in Los Angeles Review of Books, The Millions, Fiddleblack, [PANK] Magazine, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere. He was born and raised in Ohio, received his MFA from University of California-Riverside as a Chancellor’s Distinguished Fellow, and has lived and worked in every contiguous U.S. time zone. He is the winner of The 2015 Luminaire Award for Best Prose, was selected as a New River Gorge Winter Writer-in-Residence, and was a finalist in the Queen’s Ferry Press 2015 Best Small Fictions Prize. His debut novel, Above All Men (MG Press, 2014), won the 2015 Coil Book Award for Best Book and was chosen as a Midwest Connections Pick by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association. Find him at ericshonkwiler.com and @eshonkwiler.
Sam: Can you tell me a little bit about Above All Men (Midwestern Gothic Press)?
ES: It’s such a well-worn path now that I can’t diverge from it, so here’s the elevator pitch: Above All Men is the story of David Parrish, a war-veteran farmer trying to keep his family and farm together in the wake of the economic collapse of America. To expand on that, AAM trucks with the slow unraveling of all our luxuries, pivoting primarily on modern issues like oil, global warming, drought, and the traumas of war. The reader follows David as he worries over raising his young son right, and struggles to keep the livelihood he’s fought and toiled for. All of these issues are drawn together when a child is murdered, and David decides to hunt down the killer. I’ve heard people describe it as a cross between The Grapes of Wrath and The Road, with a pinch of True Grit thrown in. I’ve also heard—and love—the term “slowpocalypse” in reference to the book.
SS: What drove you to write this book?
ES: It all comes back to my uncle, a Vietnam vet who was at least as traumatized by war as David is. I took his stories and experiences, both in war and at home, and synthesized them into the most important part of Above All Men. I suppose hearing all that, and having friends who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, put a chip on my shoulder. If I wouldn’t serve myself, I could write something that addresses some of the issues veterans face. Everything else about it—the post-apocalyptic setting and all—was just a focusing of other interests and timely issues.
SS: What are five adjectives you would use to sum up the work?
ES: This is aping what other people have told me, but: sparse, stark, poetic, and any two other synonyms for spare/lean/etc.
SS: What has it been like having your novel recorded as an audiobook?
ES: Strange, though I’m glad to have it out there. There’s a disconnect that happens when hearing it—recognizing the words but not the voice—that honestly I find pretty hard to handle. It’s no fault of the narrator, Dane Elcar, but it’s something I can only deal with in small doses. I’m also not keen on revisiting the work on the page, as I tend to tear it apart.
SS: What drink would you say best characterizes the work? You don’t have to name a specific brand (unless you want to). I’m looking for an answer like beer, wine, bourbon, vodka, coffee, et cetera.
ES: A common bourbon like Jim Beam or Old Grand-Dad.
SS: What are you working on now?
ES: A lot of things. I’m finishing the first draft of a separate novel, toying with a story collection, and working on final edits for the sequel to Above All Men that’s due out in late 2016.
Inspiration: Like Eric, I love the term “Slowpocalypse,” which took over my original name for the drink–“The Shonkwiler.” Thinking about the name, I wanted that packed a punch, but remained simple. The Four Horsemen (Jim, Jack, Johnnie, Jameson) came to mind, and I took it from there. I chose a fig because, aside from going well with bourbon, the fruit grown prominently at one point in Afghanistan, and I wanted to tie the current wars Eric talked about with those of times past.
2 oz Old Grandad
2 oz Johnnie Walker Red
1 oz Jack Daniels
3 oz Club soda
2 brown sugar cubes
Muddle the fig and sugar cubes against the inside of a cocktail shaker. Add a few cubes of ice, bourbon, and scotch. Add ice to a tall glass and pour in mixture. Top with club soda and float the Jack Daniels.