Despite what the title suggests, the tales in Keith Rosson’s new short story collection Folk Songs For Trauma Surgeons (paperback, Kindle) are not musical musings for doctors who perform emergency surgeries. Though as he explains in the following email interview about it — in which he discusses how this collection came together — he does point out why it’s a much more fitting name than Country Songs For Cardiothoracic Surgeons.
To start, is there a theme to the stories in Folk Songs For Trauma Surgeons?
Honestly, and I’ve talked about this before in various interviews — I don’t really think about theme at all in my books. People still manage to find them, so that’s cool. But even after the sixth or seventh or tenth draft of a thing, when I start to think it’s ready to send out or give to a beta reader or whatever, I never once think, “Aha! And the theme is XXXXX, of course!” There are ideas I try to get across, but they’re ultimately simple ones, and they can be distilled in pretty much every single thing I write: life is endlessly hard, there’s still hope, and what a world it would be if we were all able to grow into the people we wish we could become. Also, did I mention life is hard?
Did you write any new stories for Folk Songs For Trauma Surgeons, or were they all stuff you had finished?
I didn’t write anything new directly for the collection, though a few stories were written right before we started officially compiling it, so there was some juggling of new stuff versus old stuff. I think we wound up cutting four or five other stories, so the table of contents wouldn’t get too unwieldy or repetitive.
So what genre or genres do the stories in Folk Songs For Trauma Surgeons cover?
Oooh, that’s a good one! You got your straight literary stories, you got your crime stories, you got your ghost stories, you got your fabulist / magical realism stories, you got your reimagined or modernized fairy tale stories, and then you got your weird mish-mash stories that have elements of each all smooshed together.
And is there a reason why it’s Folk Songs For Trauma Surgeons as opposed to Pop Songs For Orthopedic Surgeons or Metal Songs For Plastic Surgeons or, I’ll stop now.
Yeah, I mean, the notion of a folk song is like this rough, careworn ballad, right? Three chords and a simple structure and a song that is in its essence an homage. That’s what a folk song is, at least to me.
And it’s for trauma surgeons, those people that staunch the wound, right? That fix the holes and repair the terrible injuries that have been wrought upon us. So a folk song for a trauma surgeon is essentially a shouted thank you for those that would help repair us.
I also just think it’s a cool-ass title.
Do any of the stories in Folk Songs For Trauma Surgeons have connections to any of the novels you’ve written?
In a very minor way, yeah. A few of the stories in the collection are interconnected, featuring some of the same characters. But the only hard and fast connections I can think of is the Folk Song story “Dunsmuir,” where the main character, newly sober, is able to get a job at a fast food franchise called Bean There, Bun That. Astute readers will note this is the same fast food place that Mike Vale gets fired from in Smoke City. There’s also a doomsday cult, The Hand Of Light, that’s featured in the Folk Songs stories “Brad Benske And The Hand Of Light” and “This World Or The Next,” that’s got my novels Smoke City and The Mercy Of The Tide written all over it, as well as a forthcoming thing I can’t really talk about yet.
Speaking of your novels, are there any writers that had a big influence on the stories in Folk Songs For Trauma Surgeons but not on anything else you’ve written?
Honestly, I don’t really know what my influences are. I don’t ever set out to write stories a particular way. I wish I could be like, “I’m gonna bust out a little crime ditty like Tod Goldberg,” or “I’m gonna scare the shit out of people like Stephen Graham Jones or Sara Gran, boom!” I think we’re a culmination of all our influences, including what we had for lunch and if we got splashed by a mud puddle that morning or not. It’s all buried in the silt of the subconscious, and sometimes it rises up and lands in a story.
What about non-literary influences, were any of the stories in Folk Songs For Trauma Surgeons influenced by any movies or TV shows?
Again, nothing purely intentional. I read a lot more than I watch stuff, but I do sometimes try to parse out movie plots, just to see how they’d be transferred into a novel form.
Now, it’s been my experience that short stories are a good way to get to know a writer…but not always. Do you think Folk Songs For Trauma Surgeons will give people a good idea of what to expect in your novels?
The weird thing for me is that I’ve read a number of early reviews that claim the stories in Folk Songs are, at their core, nihilist. And that baffles me. I write about hurt people, and people who feel cornered, and even if it’s through the lens of magical realism or fabulism or whatever, there are still human concerns at the core of these stories. Nihilism, what? So I don’t know. On the other hand, I’ve gotten taken to task in reviews because the endings of some of my novels have been considered too “Hollywood” or “saccharine.”
So I guess my answer would be, who knows? You get tagged if you go too dark, and you get tagged if not everyone’s laying in a heap of red-misted gore at the end of the book. I have no idea if fans of Folk Songs will like my novels. It’s all a big, cosmic crapshoot. But as far as if the collection’s a good indication of what my sentences read like, and how I do dialogue and stuff, yeah, I think it’s a great launching-off point.
So if someone enjoys Folk Songs For Trauma Surgeons, which of your novels would you suggest they read next, and why that one?
My hope is that if you dig Folk Songs, you’ll like any of the other ones as well. Though if I had to pick, I think Road Seven [which you can read more about here] or Smoke City are maybe quicker reads, a little less unwieldy and more funny. The Mercy Of The Tide is a lot of things, but funny it isn’t.