Michael Martone’s collection Four For A Quarter: Fictions was recently released by FC2 in the fall of 2011. Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Martone now resides in Tuscaloosa and teaches at the University of Alabama. He is the author of several books of fiction and nonfiction, including Michael Martone (FC2), The Blue Guide To Indiana (FC2), Pensées: The Thoughts of Dan Quayle (Broad Ripple Press), Fort Wayne Is Seventh on Hitler’s List (Indiana University Press), and Alive and Dead in Indiana (Alfred A. Knopf), among others. His collection of essays about the Midwest, The Flatness And Other Landscapes (University of Georgia Press), won the AWP Prize for Creative Nonfiction in 1998. You can read his short story “The Mayor of the Sister City Talks to the Chamber of Commerce” at Fiction Southeast.
FC2: How did you first learn about FC2?
Michael Martone: I was a grad student at Johns Hopkins and Moira Crone came into the office wondering aloud if she should publish her Winnebago book with FC2. She did. The next year I taught a class on little magazines and small presses and read all about the press.
FC2: Tell us about Four And A Quarter: Fictions.
Michael Martone: It is a collection of 44 fictions each on a subject related to four. The four winds, humors, blood types, corners, directions, seasons, the four chambers of the heart, the four chambers of a cow’s stomach, the four-in-hand knot, the four railroads of Monopoly, four eyes, four dead in Ohio, the four speeds of the record player playing quartets, Motown and Moptops. Etc. It refers to the old photobooth that gave you four pictures for a quarter. I was interested in exploring the photobooth as a narrative delivery device and the idea of a booth itself. A booth as a transformational space. The phone booth for Superman. The confessional. The toll booth. Four booths. The fictions then are micro collages that meditate on minute changes. Leap years and leap seconds.
FC2: FC2’s mission statement states, “The Fiction Collective Two is devoted to publishing fiction considered by America’s largest publishers too challenging, innovative, or heterodox for the commercial milieu.” Will you elaborate on what you believe it means to write innovative, challenging, and heterodox fiction in 2012?
Michael Martone: The mission might have to be rethought as the alternative publishing model collapses. Everything anymore is for the nation’s largest publishers too challenging, innovative, or heterodox. That is to say literary fiction. All literary fiction is no longer commercial. And I think of myself as a formalist. I am interested in exploring various forms of prose fiction and nonfiction. So for me all fiction is experimental. That metaphor, that binary is less and less useful. I believe that a future does lie in our collective effort in creating a new model for publishing as well as figuring out the effects of the new technologies and how to use them to make art.
Steve Katz has written that the Fiction Collective began with the desire to “make a literature.” What does that phrase mean to you?
Michael Martone: See above. I think it is difficult for most citizens today to even begin to imagine making anything. Much of what we learn to do is to consume and we learn that mainly in a consumptive model, classrooms that are not generative but places of passive transmission of benign information. So I would say make anything not just literature.
FC2: For what FC2 backlist title are you an evangelist?
Michael Martone: So many! But I am just mainly an evangelist for the backlist. When I started writing in 1977 the Thor Tool case destroyed the model of the backlist, making publishing all about the front list. So for me I am the defender of “the backlist” period. Keeping books in print, as many if not all, once they are made is a vital important necessary job.