A Fruit Salad of Harm! - Interview with Author Josh Stevenson
I recently interviewed Josh Stevenson, proprietor and author or A Fruit Salad of Harm. It is the only blog that I actually read like a subscriber. I am a huge fan, so I was delighted when Josh agreed to be interviewed.
Hey Josh Thanks for joining us at The Westminster Confession of Funk.
Thank you for having me. I’m thrilled to be invited, and already at home, as I’m feeling both dogmatic and enslaved by the rhythm.
Where did the name "A Fruit Salad of Harm" come from?
The answer to this is surprisingly pretentious. Putting this up top should alienate most of your readers. Goodbye, readers.
It came from thinking about about the stance that the community and culture that I’m a part of takes on humor and the comic. Where I live there’s an idea that humor ought to be satirical. It ought to have a point, and it ought to tear into something.
That’s certainly one thing that humor does, and a legitimate use. But starting with the stated intention of taking something down a peg doesn’t get me going. Comedy as a category contains both Bill Hicks and Jack Handey. Bill Hicks’ thing is that he’s raw and real and just telling the truth, man. Jack Handey creates funny things that have no target, as far as I can tell. They make you laugh yourself dumber. I resonate more with the Jack Handey tone.
Unfortunately, I picked up the fruit salad thing from Nabokov. An interviewer asked him if he wrote satire, and Nabokov pulled an interesting trick by pointing out that “satire” comes from the Greek “satira” which means “fruit salad”. So instead of this ideologically motivated knife, a fruit salad is a thing you pick through—ooh, there’s an orange slice, a nut, ahhh, a cherry—and find little delights. So Nabokov said that he did satire in that sense, aggregating small delights for the reader. That sounds good to me.
“Fruit Salad” needed some teeth, lest it sound only wacky. I like macabre stuff, and I thought that might have a place on my site. So the “harm” is fair warning that I might post creepy things about scary stuff.
Boom: “A Fruit Salad of Harm”
See? Surprisingly pretentious for a site that has, not one, but two stories about a crazy family that dresses one of their kittens up in tin-foil armor.
Where do you get the ideas for your stories?
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that my wife, Abby, is funnier than I am. I am one of the people who acknowledge this. In fact, I agree that most people I know are funnier than I am. But I’m the one with a congenital defect that makes me want to sit down, alone, and write things. So it’s honestly the case that sometimes my much funnier wife will have an idea, or say something that gives me an idea, and then I will go and write it. Then I’ll bring it back to her and she’ll read it and try to hide a disappointed expression.
I have two ways of “getting ideas” that don’t involve stealing them from my wife:
1 - Remember something that happened to me, and then twist it into something interesting.
2 - Think, say, or overhear something funny or interesting and then write it down within about two minutes.
We remember the things we remember for a reason, so even banal memories tend to link up with bigger concerns. But they might not be great stories. So sometimes I have to distort actual events to attempt to get something interesting. They still don’t end up being great stories, but my blog is free, and no one is making you read it. It would be nice if someone were making people read it—like with threats and guns.
Another thing that helped:
I listen to comedy podcasts, and a lot of them are improv-based. I’m not an improviser, but I’ve familiarized myself with the rules of improv, and use them when I write. If someone can riff for fifteen minutes, or an hour—on a nothing idea—and end up with something entertaining, I figure it’s got to be possible to write for an hour or two and come away with something. That didn’t happen the first time I did it, or most of the times I do it now. But with a few years of practice, I think it’s possible to become more consistent.
Related to overhearing funny things, I once heard someone in a coffee-shop say, “I’m trying to be more naive this holiday season”. That's a shiny new quarter in the have-a-penny-leave-a-penny-need-a-penny-take-a-penny tray that you used to see more often in convenience stores.
What made you think that you should do a blog full of goofy short fiction?
In response to “goofy” I have to say, “Ow.” I never thought about it that way. Joke.
Earlier I mentioned a compulsion to write things. I don’t mean to glorify that. It’s not like, “I have things inside me that the world must hear about.” It’s more like, “I have this thing inside me, and if I don't make it to a computer quick, I’m going to ruin the carpet.” I feel the need to write things, and it helps keep floor coverings undefiled.
I also need validation from other people. I was kicked out of a Montessori school at the age of five because I kept making other children come look at what I was doing. Once I did a love-languages test with some relatives and it turned out that the other men in the group did not ever need to hear “words of affirmation”. It was the lowest category for them in terms of importance. You will not be surprised when I tell you that it was the absolute most important category for me.
I come from a stable, loving family. Even so, I’m horribly damaged in this way and need people to tell me that they like a thing I made. I’m not sure why.
Have you immortalized your friends, family, or enemies in any of your stories?
I have five brothers and two sisters, and I frequently mash them together into a single sibling, picking traits from each like Igor in the graveyard. However, I’m frequently making them dumber or meaner than they actually are, so I wouldn't want anyone to imagine that the siblings in my stories are faithful to reality.
As for enemies, I have a story. Our cat had kittens and we advertised that they were free to a good home. This couple showed up to help a third person choose a kitten. The couple was alleged to “know cats”. They were supposed to have some mystical connection to them. I’m sure they’re wonderful folks in civilian life, but they examined our kittens and, for reasons obscure to us, found them wanting. I believe that they said that they didn’t like the vibe of our cats. Say what you will about our cats, but their vibe is unimpeachable. This was such a traumatic experience for me that I wrote two stories about it.
Somewhat masochistically, in both stories I made the couple seem sane, and the people giving the kittens away seem crazy. That’s partly out of a conviction that I ought to take the log out of my own eye. But the fact that I’m telling the story this way here might be proof that the log is still lodged firmly in socket.
What do you hope people get out of reading your stories?
I hope they enjoy them. Per the whole “satira” thing, I hope they comb through and find a couple of delightful things. I think art is capable of great importance, and I’d like to aspire to transcendent value and beautiful, instructive morality and so on. But as a fella in his mid-to-late-thirties in northern Idaho who’s never been published in print, creating works that speak to the joy and suffering of being human might not be my job. Mostly I just write sentences that I hope add up to something funny or—sometimes—grotesque.
Are you better at dodgeball or snowball fights?
Speaking of transcendence, I’ve had moments of sublimity engaged in both.
I think I’m better with ballistics than fastballs, and I think that inclines me towards the snowball fight. Not a lot of slow, arcing shots in dodgeball. Also, I can generally avoid hitting people in the face with a snowball, so I’m a respectful opponent. My son might tell you differently, but he’s a known liar.
Do you ever catch yourself planning to use people you're talking to as characters in one of your stories? What is the best time that something like that happened?
My dad likes to chat. He likes to talk to strangers. I don’t like to engage much with humans out in the wild, but the vagaries of modern life require me to buy goods at stores from time-to-time. So most of my interactions with non-family members occur with cashiers. But because I’m my father’s son, I will sometimes try to make the exchange memorable for the cashier.
One time a cashier at our local co-op gave me the total amount of my purchase. She said something like, “Seven dollars and fifty-three cents.” Well, that’s the kind of opportunity I can’t turn down. So I brandished my debit card and said, “Perfect—that’s the exact amount in my bank account.”
She didn’t like this response at all. She did not look at me or say anything to me for the rest of the transaction. I don’t know how, but my idiotic attempt at a joke really destroyed her day. As soon as I saw her disappointment in me, I knew that my failure had been generative.
As with the people demeaning our cats, this event proved so traumatizing for me that I have written multiple pieces about bad interactions with cashiers.
Any Questions I should have asked you that I didn’t?
Looking back over these responses, and thinking about my life in general, I don’t think you should have asked me any questions at all. For shame.
You have any plans for other projects, writing or otherwise?
I don't have anything to plug. My output on my blog has become spotty, but I’m still working on stuff consistently. I only have two hobbies:
1 - Trying to be creative
2 - Worrying about being creative
So given that, and the fact that it’s clear that my blog does not have any quality control, it’s weird that I don’t post more. I guess no one has recently insulted any cats that I own, which amounts to a bit of a dry spell.
Thank you for the opportunity to demonstrate to a wider audience that they should should avoid my blog: https://stervenson.wordpress.com.
Josh, thanks for joining us.