PW: Junior wants to relieve his anger and pain by smashing the “pug-nosed, chipmunk-cheeked, wonky-eyed Dutch girl” against the wall. What is it about smashing things, or about punching inanimate objects, etcetera, that opens up and relieves that emotional vein, and when might this be a healthy approach to anger/pain management?
DM: I think there’s got to be a release valve, whether that be smashing tchotchkes or working a heavy bag or lifting weights. At least for me there needs to be. And it’s always healthy when I’m letting go of that energy. It’s like a controlled burn in the forest. Most importantly, it allows me to work. I’m not one of those people who writes to let out their feelings. I need to let that anger, anxiety, fear, or whatever out before I show up at the page.
So it’s healthy to release that pressure, but as a writer I’m not interested in characters who manage their frustration in healthy ways. How damn boring would it be to read about well-adjusted, normal people? I want to see how long my characters can keep that valve shut. Let that pressure build and build and build. I want to hear that teakettle whistle. Junior dreams about smashing that salt shaker, but he never acts on that impulse. Likewise, at the end of the story, he knows he should say something to his mom about her hoarding problem, about her not getting over the dad’s leaving, but he’s never going to say anything. It’s that not doing of things—the regret that goes along with it and the anticipation for the blow-up at some point—where I find an infinite source of narrative tension.
All the Proud Fathers, the book-length manuscript in which “Goodwill” appears is packed with characters not acting, not releasing that tension, and then blowing a gasket in some way. If there’s a common thread to all those stories (and, maybe, a recurring pattern in the way I craft narratives) it might be that building pressure, that frustration when it comes to withholding action, and how it manifests in unexpected—sometimes destructive, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes fantastic—ways.