Veteran story writer Ron Carlson goes West in Five Skies, his first novel in 25 years.
You've written four story collections; what made this material say "novel" to you?
The first thing I wrote was a dialogue between two men about work. What have you done? Where have you worked? I wanted the slow fire that would come out of that and began speculating. I wrote a few stories in the interim and the dialogue kept coming back to me, so at that point, I knew.
How was the transition to the longer form?
The satisfactions of writing a novel are as great as writing a story, but they're different and gather longer. Writing a story in eight or nine days—something surprising can happen. In a novel, you walk around with these guys on your shoulders for months. I really enjoyed the struggle of listening to what was going to happen to my guys.
The novel's setting—the American West—acts as a spiritual salve for your characters. What attracted you to the West?
I don't want to be philosophical about it, but so much of it is real. It's firsthand. It isn't insulated or obfuscated by layers of towns and civilization. You get to meet yourself out there. When I moved back west after being in Connecticut, I couldn't tell you what happened, but it just felt like the sky fit.
So you're not moving to Manhattan any time soon?
I don't think I want to live in a building where other people are writing books. There's a hyperthyroid energy you get riding down the elevator and hearing people typing their novels, but no, I think I need to be out of that.
One of your stories, "Keith," has been adapted for the big screen. How was the experience?
That was the strangest thing that's happened to me for a long time. They had the option for five years, and then they called me and said, "We started." I couldn't believe it. They paid for me to join the Screen Actors Guild. I have one line in the movie.
Now that you're a SAG member, any other roles on deck?
My goal as an actor is to be a dead body on CSI. I'm very good at sitting still.