Eric was interviewed by author Leah Angstman for a brief feature in the July newsletter of the SouthWest Writers group, SouthWest Sage:
“Eric Shonkwiler is a University of California–Riverside MFA graduate and the author of the literary fiction novel, Above All Men, a 2014 Midwest Connections Pick released in March from MG Press. Born and raised in Ohio, Eric is currently residing in Deming, New Mexico, where he is putting finishing touches on book two and researching local history for book three, completing a trilogy.
Leah Angstman: Start with your Above All Men elevator pitch:
Eric Shonkwiler: Above All Men is the story of David Parrish, a war veteran and farmer trying to keep his family and farm together in the wake of the economic collapse of America. When a local child is murdered, old demons are loosed in David, and he goes on a hunt for the killer.
LA: When we think “apocalypse,” we think zombies. How do you shake that stigma with your “slow-pocalypse,” and why is it important to paint a realistic near-future?
ES: The last part answers the first—Above All Men is grounded in realism, and despite its trappings of taking place in the future and all of the changes that have occurred since then (immense climate change and societal collapse), there’s nothing magical, biblical, or sci-fi about it. I tried my best to paint a future that I see coming. I think its importance is self-explanatory. There’s nothing to laugh at, here. Nothing is ironic. This may be coming.
LA: Your protagonist, David, was influenced by your Vietnam-veteran uncle, who passed away before the book was released. Did it become easier or harder to continue with the book after his passing? Did you feel a duty to remain true to any part of your uncle’s character, and at what point did David truly start taking on a life of his own?
ES: I don’t think it became more or less difficult, though his passing may have given me more drive. I don’t let much stand in the way of a story, but I do feel that I stayed as true as I could to my uncle’s experiences, as horrific as some were. While David’s background is pastiche, I never felt that David was ever being guided or led by anything other than the story’s mandates.
LA: Your writing is also heavily influenced by landscapes. What appeals to you about the Southwest?
ES: I find desolation to be particularly, strangely beautiful. An open reach of desert to me is more appealing than a field of flowers. There’s something wonderful about a landscape that tests you. Which isn’t to say that all of the Southwest is desolate. It’s a varied landscape, and my favorite region of the United States.
LA: You’re researching New Mexico’s history for your third book. Is there anything you can tell us about that?
ES: The third book is going to look into the idea of a frontier becoming new, vibrant, and tumultuous all over again. In looking into New Mexico’s history, I intend to find some key facets of human experience that repeat, and recast them in a different light. Or perhaps simply from a different angle.”
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