Dr. Michael Piafsky Signs Debut Novel Feb. 13
One man’s search for truth and meaning in life is the prevailing theme of Michael Piafsky’s debut novel, All the Happiness You Deserve. Published this month, Happiness follows an Everyman’s journey from a Midwestern childhood through an East Coast education and career, and from first love through marriage, parenthood, and old age.
With one of 78 Tarot cards framing each chapter, Piafsky’s novel is described by Prospect Park Books as a “universal mediation on the way we tell the stories of our life and the experiences—both ephemeral and momentous—that remain indelibly etched in our memories.”
Dr. Piafsky, associate professor of English and director of creative writing at Spring Hill College, will sign copies of All the Happiness You Deserve on Wednesday, Feb. 13 from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. in the SHC bookstore, located in the student center on campus. He will also be doing a reading at Page and Palette in Fairhope on Feb. 23rd from 3-5 p.m.
Q & A with Michael Piafsky
Q: Did you always know you would become a writer?
A: It had never occurred to me to become a writer, but I must have had some interest in the field, as I was the editor of my high school literary magazine. I took one creative writing class in college and discovered a loophole whereby you repeat it for credit two or three times. By the time I was finished, I knew that I had a bit of talent. Armed with this knowledge, I promptly stopped writing, moved back to Canada, got a job in advertising, and got married.
One day, without my knowledge, my wife took the only two solid stories I’d ever written and sent them off to a Canadian novelist named Timothy Findley. A few weeks later I received a manila envelope complete with two line-edited manuscripts and an enormously encouraging letter. When the story was published, I quit my job—one day before my ad agency went out of business and I would have gotten severance.
Q: It’s rare to find novels about the pivotal experiences common to so many men: a middle-class childhood, rocky parental relationships, marriage, fatherhood, etc. Do you have any concerns about being pigeonholed as a “domestic” writer?
A: I am still at the stage where I’m a million percent delighted to be pigeonholed as any kind of writer, frankly. Is there a stigma to the Domestic? I wrote my dissertation on Ann Beattie, I’ve read everything Alice Munro and Anne Tyler and Alice McDermott have ever written. I’d be very, very happy to be the poorest relation at that family reunion.
There’s also something about the category that’s central to the type of writing I always want to do. I write small-stakes things, generally. If I did it right, this novel is a tragicomedy: pretty without being precious, sad enough to make you feel bad but funny enough to make you chuckle in retrospect.
Q: There’s a beautiful passage in which the narrator finds unexpected sanctuary in a Catholic church. What role does religion—or spirituality—play in the novel?
A: Yes, both religion and spirituality are very important in this and in most of my writing. Nearly all of my protagonists tend to be Catholic, even though I am Jewish.
Spirituality, more broadly, is present throughout the novel. For our protagonist, religion becomes another way that he could have given his life direction, and actually this was probably one of the best and healthiest opportunities for him to have taken.
Q: Does the title—All the Happiness You Deserve—relate in any way to the Tarot?
A: Short answer is “no.” The original title did, and when I changed it I winnowed approximately 60 titles down to 12, most of them in some ways plays on the Tarot, its history, or purpose. I came very close to choosing a title invoking stars and causality and am very glad I didn’t as within a month it became apparent that John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars was going to be the big book of the year. About 20 minutes before I was going to submit my suggestions, a colleague wandered into my office and asked me about a Christmas card he was writing to his ex-wife. That card became the basis for my title.
Q: Who are your literary heroes?
A: Beyond Mr. Findley, whose influence is more personal than aesthetic, I am influenced by Richard Russo and Ann Beattie and Italo Calvino and the poetry of Billy Collins and Robert Lowell.
Q: You teach writing and have worked as an editor of The Missouri Review. What advice has been most beneficial to you?
A: Joyce Carol Oates once told me to buy a cat and write with it on my lap. Her thinking was that at the end of a chapter you could quit and disturb the cat or plod along with another chapter. Another writer once told a group of us that we needed to be passionate about the work we were doing and that too often a book seemed as much of a chore to write as it is to read. The best advice I’ve ever gotten was a Facebook status update from a friend of mine, who wrote that he “did not accept any jibber-jabber from his novel today.” If I can imagine a heaven, it’s a place where that is always true.
A Montreal native, Dr. Piafsky earned an MA in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri. He has published fiction and nonfiction in Meridian, Epic, and Bar Stories. An excerpt from All the Happiness You Deserve was published by the Jabberwock Review and nominated for a Pushcart Prize.
For more information about Dr. Piafsky and his writing, visit www.michaelpiafsky.com.