Discover more from Bobby Miller Time
Interview: D.T. Robbins on his new short story collection and other fun things like DEATH
My interview with the author of the new short story collection, "Birds Aren't Real".
D.T. Robbins is an author based in Southern California. I’ve been following his work for a couple of years, and today marks the release of his book of short fiction, “Birds Aren’t Real.” I was fortunate to read an advance copy of the book and really dug it - it’s strange, funny, & dark, with a roving beating heart. Below is my interview with D.T.
BM - I found the book’s strangeness comforting. Is this a symptom of our times, or am I just a broken person?
D.T. -I mean, I wrote it, so maybe I'm the broken one. Maybe my brokenness is comforting to you. I think what's comforting about the strangeness to me, is the humor in it. I've always felt that way about any kind of absurdity in art. It's so far outside of the realm of our reality, but it feels, in a way, more human.
BM - For the last few years, I keep feeling like the world will finally pump the breaks and chill out a little, but every day there seems to be something new and terrifying. Did you wrestle with any concerns while writing this collection?
D.T. - I haven't really had any concerns, tbh. Realistically, the catastrophic events we've been seeing more of are the same catastrophic events we've always seen. Now they're just more publicized and politicized. Every news outlet on every notch of the political spectrum takes virtually everything that happens, ride it hard, and puts it up wet just to get that sponsor money and keep people tuning in. Add social media to the mix and they've got everyone freaking the fuck out 24/7, 365 days a year. I think that's hysterical, honestly—how conditioned we are now to easily spiral. If you want to truly freak out, just think about space. We are tiny specks floating on a blue rock in the middle of nowhere, unable to control literally anything about this nowhere in space that we occupy. That's the true terror. But that's not sexy.
BM - Talk to me about the process of culling together this collection. How did these stories fit together for you? When did you know you had enough for a book?
D.T. - I knew to cut it off around 125-150 pages. Everyone is different, but that's the perfect length of a short story collection for me. Going beyond that seems like too much work. There have only been a handful of short story collections that ran closer to 200-250 pages that I've been able to read and not feel like, okay, I need a break. As far as them fitting together, I was in the same mindset while writing most of them, so I know they all came from the same place which felt right to me.
BM - I’m going to link to your website so people can get a sampling of your voice. But, for folks too fucking lazy to do that, how would you describe it? And try to be as pithy and Hollywood-elevator pitch as possible because I’ll be frank, I can’t vouch for the intelligence of anyone who reads my substack.
D.T. - Shit. I don't really know. I try to write the way that I talk. I don't really like using flowery language too much. I mean, I'd love to write like Denis Johnson, but I don't and I never will. Even his writing was never very flowery, though. Kevin Maloney and his wife, Aubrey, were at my house a week ago and Aubrey was asking about my writing and Kevin said it was "psychedelic and heartfelt" and I feel like that made sense. It's a little batshit crazy, but I'm actually a romantic at heart. Whatever any of that means.
Editor’s Note: I think everyone. And I mean EVERYONE reading this is a genius.
BM - Birds Aren’t Real is also the name of one of my favorite stories in the collection. What’s the genesis of that one?
D.T. - Thanks, man. I was in the shower and talking to my wife, who was getting dressed, about how we needed a date night and how it had been a minute since we'd had one. After that, the opening lines just sort of popped into my head and it was downhill from there. That story felt really easy to write.
BM - This isn’t a question, but I just want to say that the sentence “My brain farts out and I die” appears in this book and I very much appreciated it.
D.T. - Ah, Clark. Now, THAT story took a little longer to get through, to find the right plot and all. But I was determined to keep that line in Clark no matter what.
BM - I should point out this book is FUNNY. And I think with humor, you’re allowed to get away with more. For example, death is a major element in it, but it never felt oppressive to me. How has death affected your life?
D.T. - Thank you. I really appreciate that. For a long time, I never thought I was funny. Actually, I was told by my family that I wasn't. It wasn't until later that I started feeling differently. Maybe not a feeling of, "Oh, hell yeah, I'm funny." But maybe, like, I don't care what they think, I think this is funny. Death is a big thing for me in a lot of ways. I'm curious about what happens after. Not necessarily death in and of itself. So, I guess, the afterlife or whatever that means. I grew up in a really religious home, so that shapes a lot of that curiosity. As for the collection itself, Oi is the closest that I'd say my own personal affectedness by death appears. My cousin passed away a few weeks before I wrote that story, so it was a way for me to process my own grief.
BM - Were there any other stories that helped you process something in a similar way?
D.T. - Yeah, there were a few. Better Than Dead: Forgotten was a big one. Gallon of Water was another. Whoosh is like a love letter to my wife.
BM - I’m curious to know more about your religious upbringing. I was raised catholic and I always felt like seeing a dude nailed to a cross every week instilled me with a morbid sensibility.
D.T. - I grew up going to a Catholic school. My mom was Pentecostal, my dad was Southern Baptist. It was kind of all over the place and everyone arguing over shit that they were really supposed to agree with. When I got older I went to an Evangelical church, and that had its own brand of insanity. I don't have an issue with religion. I have my own beliefs which I don't talk about because it's weird, I think. But it definitely helps with my fascination and curiosity about the afterlife or the notion of it and what it really means.
BM - I was familiar with your work prior to this publication. I want to say your story “The Leg” was my introduction. Since then, I’ve begun following you on twitter. As a somewhat newb to this scene, the twitter lit community has been very welcoming and helpful. At the same time, the site feels like a fucking drag most days. What are your thoughts on the state of Twitter?
D.T. - I've been fortunate enough to meet a lot of great people via Twitter. However, there are many days when I'd like to walk away from it because of the cesspool it can be. That said, lately, I've sort of found humor in it. So many people take themselves so fucking seriously. Especially in the lit community. The ones that don't are the ones I try to associate with. But I wouldn't be heartbroken if Twitter burned to the fucking ground.
BM - Could you talk a little bit about Rejection Letters, the site you started in 2020?
D.T. - Ah, yeah. I'm really proud of it. I'm really proud of everyone who is involved with it from the fucking amazing editors (Kevin, Felicia, Charlotte, and of course, Mama May May, who practically runs the whole fucking thing).
BM - I’m (REDACTED) years old, and I feel like rejection rolls off me like water off a duck’s back. Do you find your relationship with rejection has changed as you got older?
D.T. - Yeah, I've learned not to care. Especially in regard to literature. Feel like I've dealt with real-life rejection enough that I know the difference between true rejection and melodrama. Like, I'm not gonna fucking tweet about getting a rejection. I hate that. If you're new and you do it, cool. You don't know what you don't know. But, if you've been doing this for a while, just don't.
BM - Here’s one thing you can do. Purchase a copy of Birds Aren’t Real TODAY!
Damn, I’m good. Did you see the way I pivoted the question into a plug for the book?
I mean, Jesus Christ, sometimes I really surprise myself.
Thanks for reading Bobby Miller Time! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.