written by Andy Mozina
published by Wayne State University Press
About the book – from Goodreads: In a wide range of forms and tones, the fifteen stories in Andy Mozina’s new collection, Quality Snacks, center on high-stakes performances by characters trying to gratify both deep and superficial needs, often with unexpected consequences. Driven by strange ambitions, bungled love, and a taste for—or abject fear of—physical danger, the collection’s characters enact the paradox in the concept of a quality snack: the dream of transmuting the mundane into something extraordinary.
Two teenage boys play chicken on a Milwaukee freeway. A man experiencing a career crisis watches a seventy-four-year-old great grandmother perform an aerial acrobatics routine at the top of a swaying 110-foot pole. Desperate to find a full-time job, a pizza delivery man is fooled into a humiliating sexual demonstration by a couple at a Midway Motor Lodge. A troubled young man tries to end his father’s verbal harassment by successfully hunting a polar bear. After an elf civil war destroys his Christmas operation, Santa Claus reinvents himself as a one-man baseball team and ends up desperate to win a single game. And in the title story, a flavor engineer at Frito-Lay tries to win his boss’s heart with a new strategy for Doritos that aims to reposition the brand from snack food to main course.
While some stories embrace pathos and some are humorous and some are realistic and some contain surreal elements, all of the stories in Quality Snacks share striking insight and a cast of compelling, well-conceived characters. This collection, in an earlier form, has been a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award, the Dzanc Short Story Collection Contest, the Elixir Press Fiction Award, and the Autumn House Fiction Contest, and a semi-finalist for the Mary McCarthy Prize. Readers of fiction will be satisfied by the variety of fare offered by Quality Snacks.
“Andy Mozina is a magician. I can’t think of a species of masculine folly – whether guilty rebellion, or panicky narcissism, or dependency disguised as tyranny, or anomie passing as glib enthusiasm for new lines of an employer’s tortilla chips – whose vocabulary and broken inner self Andy Mozina has not deftly conjured up for this collection. And he is as funny as he is wise.” – Jaimy Gordon, National Book Award-winning author of “Lord of Misrule”
“Andy Mozina’s dark comic Midwestern genius thrills and troubles me, and I want more of it. Each of these stories is a philosophical puzzle, and each is a strange adventure to the foreign land that is another person’s mind. Through his plainspoken narrators, Mozina takes us farther than we meant to go – to the edge of the Arctic Ocean, to Elvis’s bedroom, to the terrible confusion at the heart of every human relationship. I love this collection.”
– Bonnie Jo Campbell, bestselling author of “Once Upon a River” and National Book Award finalist for “American Salvage”
“Andy Mozina’s ‘Quality Snacks’ is a collection of sad Rust Belt love songs. He maps a territory of dispirited office workers and aging small town beauties, all of them already beaten, always on the verge of worse. Echoes of Vonnegut, Borges, Cheever, and Saunders converge in these strip mall parking lots, in these dimly lit motels. Mozina asserts himself here as the fabulist poet of the Great Lakes working stiff.” – Tony D’Souza, author of “Whiteman” and “Mule”
“It’s a powerful effect, to wedge the sad into the funny, the strange into the normal in order to split a character (or world) apart, and it’s one that I’m fond of. The oddness and commitment to the internal logic of these stories cements it: Mozina’s creating his own worlds, in the same circles, maybe, as George Saunders’ or Brock Clarke’s, but distinctly his own.” – Ander Monson, editor of the literary magazine DIAGRAM and author of “Vanishing Point”
Of all the stories in “Quality Snacks,” which one is the most personal to you? Or is choosing one short story sort of like choosing a favorite child? “Self-Reliance” is probably the most personal because it’s about the need to accept the most embarrassing aspects of yourself. The story’s pizza delivery man takes mortification to an awe-inspiring level, and I can relate to that. Plus I used to work at a pizza shop, which makes this one border on abject autobiography.
How is “Quality Snacks” different from your first short story collection, “The Women Were Leaving the Men?” “The Women Were Leaving the Men” is all about sex and intimacy, and “Quality Snacks” is mostly about sex and also about marriage and taking wild risks to change your life.
Is it true that you started some of the stories in “Quality Snacks” more than 20 years ago? Which ones, and how did they evolve over time? “Overpass” began in 1989. At this point, I experience it in my mind as a memory from my own life. I knew how it would end when I started it, but it took me a long time to imagine the protagonist’s life and family relationships on the day the story takes place. “Pelvis” started with an anecdote Dennis Hopper told about Elvis on Late Night with David Letterman. The arc of the story and a lot of the narrator’s voice came quickly, but fine tuning her language took a while.
How did your experience as a hospice volunteer shape “Dogs I Have Known,” one of the stories in “Quality Snacks?” It made me think about altruism and how complicated the relationship is between a supposed helper and a helpee, especially when the helper brings some fear and emotional reticence to the situation. That ended up being a big theme in “Dogs I Have Known.”
So, we have to ask: What’s your favorite snack food? If there were no health consequences, I would eat taco-flavored Doritos for all of my calories. But in fact, I hardly ever eat Doritos any more—except sometimes when other people buy them. Now I make a custom trail mix that I pack into two-ounce baggies. I’ve evolved.
And while we’re on the subject: Are Doritos a “gateway drug?” Yes, most definitely. The MSG is highly addictive—there’s no doubt about this—plus the texture and the absolute perfection of the highly engineered taste make them irresistible. They’re a gateway to themselves, is what they are, a maze of pleasure from which you can be extracted only by helicopter or a tremendous act of will.
How did you go from studying economics and attending Harvard Law School to pouring yourself into creative writing and fiction? I wrote for a humor magazine in college, and I kept writing while I was in law school. Law can be a fine career, seriously. It was probably stupid to drop out of Harvard Law, but I just wanted to read and write fiction.
People have compared your style of writing to the work of George Saunders and Kurt Vonnegut. How does it feel to be in such good company? If by being in their company you mean standing several thousand miles down-mountain from them, it feels good. I can read them from where I stand and that’s all that matters.
Do you let your students read your stories? What do they think? I sometimes slip my story about Elvis into a packet of stories that are models for writing a piece of fiction about a famous person. Sometimes students get curious and seek out things on their own. The people who choose to let me know what they think tend to like my work!
Are you working on another collection? Yes, I’m starting a new collection built around contemporary images of wayward Americans—9/11 truthers, a guy who peddled mortgage-backed securities before they collapsed, an engineer on the BP drilling rig that blew up in the Gulf of Mexico. I’m interested in the mindsets of people who are normal-seeming and also spectacularly off-base in some way. I’ve also just finished a novel about a harpist taking an orchestra audition. Artists can be a little off sometimes, too.
About the author: Ink, paper, dark humor and a dash of cynicism is short story writer Andy Mozina’s secret recipe for his newest collection, “Quality Snacks” (May 1, Wayne State University Press).
“Quality Snacks” has already made some waves. The short story collection was a semi-finalist for the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction (2011) and finalist for multiple honors including the Elixir Press Fiction Award (2012), Dzanc Short Story Collection Contest (2012), Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award (2011) and the Autumn House Fiction Contest (2011).
Mozina grew up in Brookfield, Wisc., a suburb of Milwaukee. He studied economics at Northwestern University and later attended Harvard Law School for a year. He earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Boston University. He moved to St. Louis where he completed a doctorate in English literature at Washington University. Finally, after graduate school, he moved to Kalamazoo, Mich., in 1999 to teach literature and creative writing at Kalamazoo College.
Mozina’s first collection, “The Women Were Leaving the Men” (2007, Wayne State University Press), is the winner of the 2008 Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award for Fiction and a 2008 finalist for the Glassgow/Shenandoah Prize for Emerging Writers. He is also the author of “Joseph Conrad and the Art of Sacrifice” (2001, Routledge).
Mozina has published fiction in Tin House, Ecotone, Fence, The Southern Review and Missouri Review. He has been interviewed about his work on public radio stations in Kalamazoo and Milwaukee.
Mozina lives in Michigan with his wife, Lorri, and daughter Madeleine.