It was late afternoon when I sat down to talk with the author of the recent publication, My Chaos Theory. Steve Watkins is an English professor at the University of Mary Washington.
Watkins is also author of The Black O, a non-fiction piece on the racism in corporate America. When I ask him about his recent turn to fiction, he responds, "I'm interested in storytelling. I ask myself, where is the good story?" The good story is My Chaos Theory, lauded as "darkly comic" by the "L.A. Times," and hailed as "entertaining and gripping" by "Kirkus Reviews."
My Chaos Theory opens with "Critterworld," a quirky story about a boy that plots with his friends to kill an elephant, but who comes to an epiphany when fate steps in to thwart his plans. The following eleven stories in Watkins words are "pretty weird, all kind of exotic in a way."
The collection is compiled of twelve coming of age stories, "all from the point of view of young males." What makes this collection so unique? It could have something to do with the vast array of locations and scenarios, and characters that range from the wacky to the ironic. Originally the collection was arranged chronologically according to the protagonist's age, but later the collection was dispersed into no particular order. When I ask him if My Chaos Theory had its intended effect, he says it did. "The response is largely what I'd hoped I'd get." But it wasn't an easy path to get to this point; it took him fifteen years to write all the short stories that make up the collection. "Writing is hard work," Watkins says. "The writer's life is anything but exotic - my office is the laundry room." Fortunately for him, a lot of the writing he does is "in [his] head, in a spaced-out time." He says, "I may be doing Yoga, I may be doing housework, and I'll be working with characters and letting them work things out." He writes in the early morning, and says that being lost in this world is "the most delirious and delicious" feeling.
The future seems bright for Watkins. He has two books forthcoming: a novel, Goat Girl, that just sold to Candlewick Press, and another novel, Down Sand Mountain, that is due to come out in November 2008. The novel is a coming-of-age story set in semi-rural Florida against the political backdrop of the 1960s, and it centers on a young boy dealing with such issues as racism and the Vietnam War. "Every book has been different for me," Watkins says.
When I ask him about his advice to aspiring writers, he grins at me and says, "Don't, I don't need the competition." Then, becoming more serious, he adds, "Don't be an aspiring writer. Be a writer." He does not guarantee success, however; when you write, "you take that risk of sucking. It's scary, scary stuff... but if you don't take that risk, then you won't write."