I met Louis Michael Landolfi last year at Open Mic Night at the Hendersonville, NC Public Library. As I recall, he was dressed in jeans and a surgical, scrub top (light blue, I think). Open Mic Night is the third Monday of each month, and is a wonderful venue for local authors to read their work in front of a live audience, comprised mostly of other authors. There is a five-minute limit for prose, a three-minute allowance for poetry, and four minutes for prose-poetry (I’ve yet to understand the difference between it and “regular” poetry).
I’d be a liar if I told you I remember which one of Michael’s seemingly unlimited collection of original short stories he read that night, but I do know that he made a strong impression upon me. After the program ended, we chatted for a while, and I found that we had something in common, aside from writing: fly fishing. We have been furiously checking our calendars ever since, to find a date when we can spend some time together pursuing my passion. I would imagine a day on the water with Michael would be as fascinating as his stories. By the way, I asked whether he preferred to be called Louis or Michael, or Mike, or Lou. He replied that it didn’t matter, so we settled on Michael.
In the ensuing months, I published a couple of his short stories on my blog, and continued to encounter him at Open Mic Nights. Then, a number of life events intervened, and I did not attend Open Mic Night for about four months. A couple of weeks ago, however, our paths crossed again when I returned to read once more at Open Mic Night. Michael had a surprise for me: He had turned a collection of 31 of his short stories into a book. It’s called 5-Minute Short Stories (A Bathroom Book), and I bought it on the spot. After devouring every word (and enjoying it tremendously), I decided I would introduce you to the author himself. So here is my interview with Louis Michael Landolfi, who just might be the next O. Henry.
Joe—Michael, welcome to my blog.
Michael—Thank you, Joe.
Joe—How long have you been writing, and more specifically, how long have you been writing short stories?
Michael—I’ve been writing very short stories for a year or so, but I’ve been telling many of them for years. I’ve been writing on and off since I was a teenager.
Joe—I notice your new book’s description states that the stories are “true and invented tales.” I know that as we age, memories fade and our recollections become less and less accurate. Do you find that you have trouble sometimes separating fact from fiction when you are recalling a “true” story?
Michael—Yes, of course, but some of the true stories have been imprinted so deeply that I can clearly recall the wild adventure forty-five years later. Some of the tales have been told and retold so many times that my kids could probably recite them as if they had been there. And where the crisp images of misadventure fade a bit, I am world famous for embellishing—not exactly lying, but tweaking words for effect.
Joe—Have you written anything other than short stories? A novel, perhaps?
Michael—Yes, I’ve got several longer short stories, and have been working on my magnum opus for five years. I hope this rewrite will be the last, and that my novel, Vengeance is Mine, will be published this summer.
Joe—Hmmm . . . sounds interesting. What genre is it? Can you tell us a little more?
Michael—I’m not exactly sure of the genre, but the story is about a decorated Vietnam vet, Martin Cochran, who becomes an anesthesiologist in Tacoma, Washington. He marries a beautiful young woman who cheats on him after having his child. The stress of the resulting divorce and death of his “kidnapped” son causes him to snap. He reverts to “jungle mode” and doles out revenge on an unbelievable scale. His actions rival the twisted genius of Hannibal Lecter and the brutal depravity of Charles Manson. Pierre Fontaine, a reporter, tells the story. I’ve been working on this tale for five or more years and have edited it and reworked it many times. My inspiration was my own nasty divorce and stories of my peers. Of course, I’ve embellished and twisted details to appeal to the more sinister interests of my readers.
Joe—And speaking of interests, your stories are about a variety of interesting subject matter, which makes me think some might be related to work. Exactly what do you do for your “day job,” and does the workplace supply you with material for some of your stories?
Michael—Actually, several stories involve my workplace, or the characters I work with. I’m a nurse anesthetist, am on the trauma team, and work all three shifts. So, I see a lot of bizarre stuff. I suspend people in a realm between life and death so they can be cut up, chopped up, drilled on, hammered back into place, and sewn up, to continue on their merry way a.s.a.p. “You wouldn’t believe the things people do to assure themselves a place on the operating table,” is actually a line from the first story you heard me read at Open Mic, called Lucky Writer.
Joe—Ah, yes. Now that you remind me, I remember it well. So, do you have a stockpile of short stories, other than those in the book, and do you intend to publish a second volume?
Michael—I do, but the majority are still in my head. My second volume of really short stories will be out in about a year.
Joe—I notice that many of your short stories have what could be termed ironic endings, much like those of author O. Henry. Are you a fan of his work, and have you been influenced by his writing?
Michael—I love O. Henry. I love a tale that pulls you in with powerful imagery and gut twists at the end. So many stories begin well, but have disappointing endings. I try to work especially hard on the endings.
Joe—Well, I think that hard work has paid off. So, Michael, when you’re not working or writing, what kinds of activities light your fire?
Michael—Well, to answer that question, it’s probably easier if I just rattle off a list. It’ll probably sound like fiction, but here goes: rock climbing, ice climbing, mountain and road biking, trail running—thirty miles, twice, on the Art Leob Trail—and many times the eighteen-mile Shut-In Trail. (Note: these are all in western North Carolina.) I love hiking and backpacking—usually an overnighter on Mt. Mitchell or Cold Mountain in the dead of winter. I’ve also hiked lots of trails in Montana, Alaska, Wyoming, and Colorado. I like to canoe or raft the Blackfoot River in Montana, and I still do a little cliff diving and fishing when I can.
Joe—Wow! That’s quite a list. Anything more mundane? Something the rest of us can identify with?
Michael—Well, I have a woodworking shop at home, where I make furniture and jewelry from exotic hardwoods. I read almost daily, snow ski when I can, and goof off with my kids—when they have time for me.
Joe—Whew! I’m exhausted just hearing about all that.
Michael—Sorry ’bout that, Joe. Well, I try to have a lot of fun, and I want to do as much with my life as I can. Writing helps to round things out. I exercise my imagination, and I’ll have something tangible to leave for my kids. I hope it’s a good influence on them. I hope the world at large will appreciate my attempts to entertain, to momentarily relieve stress and divert readers’ attention away from their hectic lives. I hope to add a smile to at least one person’s face.
Joe—Well, you certainly accomplished that goal, at least as far as I’m concerned. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Michael—Joe, I’d just like to say thank you so much for this opportunity. I’d also like to ask your followers to purchase 5-Minute Short Stories (A Bathroom Book) on Amazon.com. Read it, smile, and pass that smile along to someone else. Thanks again for your time and encouragement.
Joe—No, thank you, Michael! The pleasure has been all mine.
Well, I think we can all agree that Louis Michael Landolfi is quite an interesting fellow. But what about his writing? You can download and read one of the short stories included in his book by clicking on the this red link : JACK RUBY by LM Landolfi.
NOTE: 5-Minute Short Stories (A Bathroom Book) is also available as a Kindle book (for those of us addicted to magnetic ink). However, the paperback makes a terrific gift for readers of all tastes in literature, and I urge you to order a few copies today—one for your own bathroom, and one or more for someone else’s. Links to the book are shown below:
For the record, O. Henry was the pen name of short story author extraordinaire, William Sidney Porter (I think most of us would use a pen name if we were gifted with that moniker.)