A Q&A with Dennis Tafoya
What are you reading now? Who are some of your favorite writers?
The demands of regular life can make it pretty challenging to focus, so lately I’ve been reading poetry before I begin writing. For me, it somehow lets some air and light into my head, reconfigures my internal landscape and helps get me moving in a productive direction. I can’t write poetry, really, but I learned a lot of what I know about cadence and economy and the power of the right word from reading poets. Right now I have an issue of Poetry with some great things in it that just lit up my brain. I also love short stories for similar reasons. I don’t just read Amy Hempel and Annie Proulx and August Tarrier, I sort of go to them in a prescriptive way to get jolts off that power that comes from pressing a lot of emotional and narrative content into a small space. If I reread August’s piece, "33 Swoonings," I just want to start writing.
What about novels, and crime novels in particular?
Right now I’m reading Scott Phillips’ The Walkaway. He’s amazing, and his work is sort of a genre unto itself. He’s sometimes classified as a crime writer, but his work kicks the slats off that crate and goes ranging in these great, unexpected directions. I admire that ability to break or extend the genre and aspire to it. But I always have five or six books going at any one time, so I’m also reading The Talented Mr. Ripley. I love it because it’s one of those books that lets you connect with the criminal mind in this very visceral, internal way. Tom Ripley reminds me of why they used to refer to psychopaths as ‘morally insane.’ I also read a lot of true crime. I could say it was for research, but to be honest I’m just morbidly curious.
Are you a disciplined writer? Do you work at the same time every day or in an office?
No, I don’t have a set time or routine. I’ve found that I write in whatever situation or at whatever hour I get an idea and have the computer with me. I actually do a fair amount of ‘writing’ in the car, driving around and listening to music. I spend most of my time in my car for my day job, and those miles between stops can actually be productive. Then, when I get home or to the hotel at night, I’ve got something to get down.
What do you do when you’re not writing or reading?
I go to bookstores. It’s a sickness. I even set part of my first book in a bookstore, maybe because I spend so much time in them. I’ve been hanging out at Central Books right here in Doylestown, PA, the bookstore. I’m also just about obsessed with Port Richmond Books in Philadelphia. It’s this sprawling, endless mass of old books in a converted theater. I can spend hours and hours there, stacking up books I’d never heard of but suddenly realize I can’t live without. I love these places because they have that great smell of old paper and they’re run by people who really love books. They bring their families to work with them and their friends hang out and tell stories. As writers and readers, it’s the type of place where we can feel completely at home.