Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Q&A with Daniel Coshnear




Daniel Coshnear is the author of the new story collection Separation Anxiety. His other books include Homesick, Redux. He lives in Guerneville, California.


Q: Over how long a period did you write the stories in Separation Anxiety?


A: The oldest story in the collection is "Echolalia." Sheesh, I don’t know when the first draft was written – 10 years ago? I’d lived in NYC for 10 years before settling in California. Decades after the move, a part of me was still in New York, still riding the subway.


"Proximity" is relatively new, one of several attempting to come to grips with the cruelty that characterized the Trump Era.   


Q: How did you decide on the order in which the stories would appear?


A: I liked opening with a couple of short ones. Though I think all the stories pertain to Separation Anxiety, there are many different tones and styles within the collection of 18.


I wanted readers to get a taste for the range of voices early on, and for the different kinds of treatment of the theme. The process was a little like tossing a salad. Let’s not have too many cucumbers on one side of the bowl. The ending of "An Ordinary Love Story" felt like a fitting way to end the book.  

Q: How was the book's title chosen, and what does it signify for you?


A: The DSM tells us that Separation Anxiety is most commonly diagnosed in young children; but it can occur at any time in the life cycle. It seems to me to be the kind of trauma upon which many stories are built – certainly mine.


Life is, among other things, a succession of losses: loss of loved ones, loss of identity, loss of meaning, loss of bone density and hair, loss of time. And when it comes to anxiety, I believe it is the job of stories to worry us, safely; to present us with worries which are not exactly our own but could be. See: Inoculations. See: What is humor?


Q: A review of the book by Alex Green in Stereo Embers magazine says, in part, “Falling somewhere between Raymond Carver and Tom Waits, Coshnear’s characters aren’t unfamiliar with dive bars, long drives, dimly lit group homes, beachside breakdowns and felonious partners and they navigate the broken paths they find themselves on with a wobbly grace.” What do you think of those comparisons?


A: Humbly, I love Alex Green’s comparison! On first reading Carver stories I began to get the idea I could write. How foolish was that? It took years to learn that that which looks easy never is. And Waits is just a genius. Somewhere he is “standing on the corner of Fifth and Vermouth.” In a song called "The Low Side of the Road" Waits growls, “The prosecution tells you to relax.”


We each have our brand of eccentrics, crusty characters, ne’er-do-wells, and heroes. I’ve been working 20-plus years at a 60-day homeless shelter. I’ve been privileged to acquaint myself with some very colorful individuals, and some very convoluted stories.


Carver and Waits are inspirations for me, and I’d like to add to the list Grace Paley, Tobias Wolff, George Saunders, ZZ Packer, and Roddy Doyle.    


Q: What are you working on now?


A: More stories. I can’t say much about theme or what a collection might look like, except that all the new stuff shares a common character, which is Sonoma County. I’ve also been spending a lot of my free time painting, or rather, coloring with oil crayons. Most of my pieces are like single panel comic strips.  


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: I teach through UC Berkeley Extension, and I occasionally take on editing projects (fiction, memoir, but not poetry). I have two other collections of stories and a novella – all of which one can learn about on my website. I’d be delighted to set up readings, visit book clubs or classes. Contact me.   


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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