Interview with Michael Czyzniejewski

Interviewed by Karina Corona

There is nothing is more human than the experience and emotions that follow a break up. In our age of disconnect, the act of breaking up is no longer a simple good bye and good day. Whether you’re the one dumping or getting dumped, when it comes to relationships—be it one of a few years, months, or even weeks—one things is certain: things are bound to get weird. 

Michael Czyzniejewski is a master in the art of breaking up, or at least when it comes to writing about it. His book, I Will Love You For the Rest of My Life, is a collection of short stories regarding the dark and sometimes strange occurrences before, during, and after a break up. 

Hair Trigger had to opportunity to talk with Czyzniejewski about his book and more importantly, the proper pronunciation of his last name. 

Karina Corona: In the dedication, you dedicate this book to Karen who “didn’t inspire a single word of this book.” Who is Karen?

Michael Czyzniejewski: Karen is my non-breakup, the one who didn't get away, the one who I truly love for the rest of my life. My first two books were dedicated to my parents, one each, and it was basically going to be her for book three. Sadly, the third book was all about sadness and the end of relationships, so I almost dedicated it to all my ex-girlfriends and was going to put their Facebook page urls so people who read my book could either congratulate them on moving on from me or tell them how foolish they were, depending on how they liked my book. But then I thought of a way to shoehorn Karen in, make it sweet, make her melt. Next two books will be my two kids, then my cat, then probably something abstract like punk rock or ennui. And if I write more books than that, I'll either have to get married again (bigamy, because again, Karen = rest of life), have more kids, or something I haven't thought of. Is Jodie Foster a cliché?

KC: Who or what did inspire you to write break-up stories?

MC: Stories always need conflict, and for some reason, the conflict I was always going to was the trouble that relationships were having. I guess that the "for some reason" is what you're really asking for, but that's the best I got: I wrote plots and conflicts around people's lives falling apart in that way. I realize that a lot of stories have another conflict, another plot, AND a relationship in the background, but I haven't gotten there yet. I'm working on a novel, without any love yet, and now maybe I just thought of my next forty pages.

KC: Some of these stories sound extremely intimate, as though they were taken directly from someone’s private journal. Are any of these stories inspired from reality?

MC: One story in particular is inspired by an ex, but only marginally. It's the Ding Dong story. While Ding Dongs, or snack cakes in general, weren't involved, the dynamic of the relationship—how I felt during it, how I see myself as being treated—was straight from., pain). But otherwise, I just made a lot of them up, imagined how and why people hurt each other. It was hard at first, but then easy, because hurting itself is pretty easy, can be accomplished in so many ways.

KC: I understand you’re from Chicago and while reading your book, the overall feeling was very much the feeling of Chicago—shifting in mood and tone much like the shifting weather here—but the location where these stories take place is never a thing which is mentioned. Was this something intentional or is it just second nature?

MC: Both. I've never really thought of setting in the way that someone like Rick Bass or E. Annie Prouix does. Or most writers. It's for the same reasons I tend to not describe my characters—except in the grotesque sense—or give them ages or races: I want my stories to be more universal, as if they could happen anywhere, to anyone. I think I've succeeded in that, too. Donald Barthelme is a huge influence on me and when I think about it, none of those stories have a particular place, or descriptions of the weather or geography. Would I like to be better at that? Sure. But I don't feel bad that I've left it off—you telling me that you feel like they feel Chicago makes me glad. Had you said, "Prague" or "Provo" I would have wondered what was causing that. I've never been to either. (Now I want to write a story set in Provo.)

KC: It’s always fun to come across writing that feels new and fresh. How did you come up with “The Braxton-Carter-Vandamme-Myers-Braxton-Carter Divorce: An Outline”?

MC: I really wanted this book to take chances, to do things I've never done, or maybe that no one's ever done, and the best way to do that is experiment with form; it wasn't like I was going to make up some new kind of suffering or heartbreak for people to endure, as you either lose someone or you don't, through your fault or theirs (or death, I guess). So I thought about stories I've read, different forms, and I remember index stories and columned stories and all kinds of epistolaries, even what Dave Eggers does with the legal pages and other front and back material in his memoir, Heartbreaking Working of Staggering Genius. But I hadn't seen anyone write a story as an outline and turn it in as the finished product (I made sure when I sent the manuscript to my editor that he knew it wasn't an in-progress piece, but what I wanted it to look like), even though, ironically, a lot of writers have that version, because they start with an outline, or get to one at some point. I wish I'd done more of that, more forms, as so many people ask me about that story.

KC: Finally, how do you pronounce your last name?

MC: Easy: Exactly how it's spelled.

To purchase "I Will Love You For the Rest of My Life: Breakup Stories" visit Curbside Splendor

December 19, 2016