On Kevin Catalano’s ‘Deleted Scenes and Other Bonus Features’

Kevin Catalano
Paperback | 150 Pages | 6.2” x 9.2”
978–1622883035 | First Edition | $14.60
Stephen F. Austin University Press| Nacogdoches, Texas | BUY HERE

With the title Deleted Scenes and Other Bonus Features, and the author’s description of it being nearly everything he’s published since sending his work out in 2005, it would be easy to assume that Kevin Catalano’s new book is a hodgepodge of greatest hits, covers, or B-side reminiscing, ala REM’s 1987 release Dead Letter Office or Nirvana’s parting release from Sub-Pop, Incesticide. Besides the fact of both of these albums being great, the comparison doesn’t hold up. The assumption isn’t true. Deleted Scenes doesn’t modify the stories or the collection, it tells about what life does to us, how time is measured, how the overlooked deserves the right attention, how the stories we don’t get to tell are the ones we need to hear the most.

Deleted Scenes is twenty-one short stories unlike just about anything you have probably read before. The uniqueness is first seen in the premises, things molded into story like the collage of Nicolas Cage movie quotes, an expecting father seeing blood everywhere, a director regretting every deleted scene. The uniqueness is seen in the strange sex, a man with an erection he can’t hide, a seven-foot man trying not to hurt the one he makes love to, and the flirtation with taboos, a mother finding her son more sexual than her husband, an evangelical revenge baptism of a boy who has lain with the sister. The uniqueness is seen in the forms: the movie quote collage, the director’s cut, the excerpts of a political science abstract, the epistolary letters home of a husband going mad. The uniqueness is seen in the historical premises like the family with the Civil War legacy or the reign of a racist vigilante.

Catalano is drawn to the new premise. It seems he has to write for it, to have the reader experience it, and to discover what new life views are found on untrodden paths. Like Helen, there seems nothing that he would hide from. And when his feet go in, they go deep. The premise is not skimmed on the surface, it’s never sparse, there is always density. He’s not afraid to look life in the eyes and try to figure out what it means. What it doesn’t mean. Every time I would get to a new story, I might have the thoughts of, ok, here’s a premise he can’t pull off. No way. And then halfway through the story I will find myself hooked. What started as an epistolary premise of a man on an ambiguous escape from his wife and maybe his work, turns into a man diving into a hole in a frozen lake, escaping into blackness, making it home in the abyss. Damn.

There will be fucking.

The shot ignites us in a fire. We fall on each other and thrash. It’s happening. We fuck—fuck with the rifle right there between our bodies, fuck without grunt or gasp, without thrust or arch, so that on the altar we can tell God we waited.

p. 77

There are break ups and communication breakdowns and broken hearts.

That’s the problem with love: you can’t ever prove its existence because the heart’s hidden.

p. 39

There will be the scenes of life you wish could be deleted, but instead they are played on a loop, they are sped up until you are dizzy. They are slowed down until you are uncomfortable.

The sun shone on his snapping muscles yanking the oars. His body looked different in the light, different than it felt in the dark. I kept my eyes on the thread of his arms because I didn’t dare look into the water. I repeated Lamb of God in my head. I thought nothing this bad could happen the day Jesus rose from the dead.

p. 153

Reader, you will not think to yourself, I have read this before. You might think what is wrong with this guy, how could someone imagine these things? Not in a hurry up and get away kind of way, but in a keep turning the page kind of way, wanting to enjoy the uniqueness like Helen in the Nightmares of Finnegan Graves who bemuses the main character with her inability to turn from her fears:

Oh my God, that was so cool! You actually have ghosts here?” and she trotted down the hall saying, “What else do you have in this place? 

p. 108

What else indeed.

Kevin was kind enough to participate in an interview as well. We exchanged the following Q&A pandemic style, or over e-mail anyway. Maybe that’s just normal style. Oh, and none of these were trick questions Kevin, unless the trick was to garner your freewheeling opinions in which case the trick worked! Mu-ha-ha!

Do you agree that your stories are on the far side of unique and does this come to you or do you have to go find it?

Sure, I would agree with that. I’ve certainly been told that my writing was weird or whatever, and I’m not so out of touch that I can’t see why. But I don’t set out to write that way; it’s not a conscious decision. I’m just trying to write what I’ve never seen before. In order for me to invest my time into a project, it has to hold my interest; and in order for it to hold my interest, the story and characters need to be different. I think that comes from being misanthropic throughout my adolescence. I had friends, but I often preferred privacy, and for whatever reason, I despised the popularity and the status quo: anything that a lot of my peers were into I was almost instantly repulsed by. (I’m sure this was true for others.) That same rebelliousness appeared, and still appears, in my writing, and often in aggressive ways, as if the point is to make the reader uncomfortable or angry. Early on, my stories were a kind of fuck you to social norms, and in a way, that hasn’t changed much. It’s funny, but reflecting on this answer makes me aware of how little I’ve matured!

What do you think about when you read stories that follow paths well-trodden?

I don’t want to seem snobby, but I don’t read many of those stories; or at least I don’t finish reading them. Since my reading time is so limited, and I’m such a slow reader, I have to be unapologetically picky about what I choose to invest my time in. That’s not to say that formulaic stories can’t be good, not at all. But I want to learn about writing from other writers (see below), and I feel I can learn most from writers who veer off the path (even if in so doing they die in a fiery crash… actually, those are the best to read!).

So before I even pick up a book, I will read some of its reviews, consider what other readers whom I trust thought about it, and then I can safely dig in.

Do you agree that Animals have a hard time in your stories?

At first I didn’t quite know what you meant. I mean, one or two obvious ones came to mind like “Death for Young Love” and “The Multitude,” but I thought those were the exception. Then I scanned back through all the stories and it struck me how frequently I used animals and their suffering indirectly, and sometimes directly, to reveal something about my characters. So I guess there’s no denying that I put them through the ringer. I don’t know if it helps, but I don’t treat my humans very well either.

It’s relevant to add that only a few months ago, we got our first family dog. Until this time, pets came and went randomly in my life. As a boy, I owned a crayfish for a while until it escaped somewhere inside the house. (I never did find it.) We had rabbits. (We don’t speak about the rabbits.) There was even a dog for a short time, but it was too aggressive and we gave it to a farmer. In other words, I didn’t come from a pet family, so I didn’t appreciate people’s bonds with them. Now that we have a dog, a rescue whom I’m very fond of, I understand the benefits of living with an animal. It’s almost unfathomable that I allow our puppy, who eats her own poop and laps up other dogs’ vomit, to lick my face without a second thought. (My mother would be disgusted.) I don’t know if this will change my treatment of animals in my writing. We’ll see.

By the way, the title of my next novel is All Dogs Go to Hell. It’s tentative.

What are you or do you want to be working on next?

Well, I’ve been working on a novel for seven years now. It’s actually an extension of “Excerpts from Mikala A. Price’s The New White Hood: Racist Vigilantism from the KKK to the Prince City Rat.” It’s been a real slog trying to get this one right (as a novel), and I am stubborn when it comes to finishing things. My life would be easier if I gave this up, but I can’t quit it. Rather, it won’t quit me. What’s keeping it alive is that I really like the premise. With each draft, the point of view, the structure, the style, the characters change, but that premise of an infamous, brain-damaged vigilante has remained intact. It seems like what’s taking so long is that I’m learning how to write the book– and God knows I’m a slow learner. I’ve been able to work on it this summer, which is a relief. I won’t say I’m close to finishing, but I’m closer to the end than the beginning.

Do you feel the pressure to stay ahead of your emerging writer son?

Haha, he’s definitely more enterprising than I am. He’s hellbent on making money from writing books, and in the past week, he’s already on his third. It’s funny, when I posted on Facebook that he wanted to sell his book, he got way more responses than I ever did when I was trying to promote my own! But that’s fine; I get 35% of his sales. It actually warms my heart to see him write. My daughter writes stories too. Writing saved my internal life. Without it, I think I would have fallen hard into drugs or depression or some kind of juvenile delinquency. It’s a frustrating lifestyle for sure, but it’s rewarding as hell. If that rubs off on my kids, I’ll be a happy dad.

Can creative writing be taught?

This seems like a trick question! As a career educator, I tend to believe almost anything can be taught. Fly fishing, computer programming, bocce ball, piano, magic. I don’t think creative writing is any more special than these other skills; we shouldn’t see it as an elitist endeavor.

But does creative writing need to be taught? After all, the only thing an aspiring writer really needs is to read a lot and write a lot. For those who have that as a foundation, teachers can play a pivotal role in shaping and guiding new writers. For those who don’t, formal creative writing instruction is probably a waste of time. I’ve seen a number of MFA students who approached writing as an assignment rather than a lifestyle. Which is fine! Again, this creative writing thing is egalitarian. I just hate to see young writers throwing money at programs because they think that’s the only way to “be a writer.”

Can it be taught in a pandemic?

Depends on how good the WiFi is!

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