Title: Quality Snacks
Author: Andy Mozina
Publication Date: May 1, 2014
Driven by strange ambitions, bungled love, and a taste for – or abject fear of – physical danger, the characters in this collection enact the paradox in the concept of a quality snack: the dream of transmuting the mundane into something extraordinary.
Andy Mozina depicts high-stakes performances to gratify both deep and superficial needs: A man experiencing a career crisis watches a 74-year-old great grandmother perform aerial acrobatics at the top of a swaying 110-foot pole. A troubled young man tries to end his father’s verbal harassment by successfully hunting a polar bear. Desperate to find a full-time job, a pizza deliveryman is fooled into a humiliating sexual demonstration by a couple at a Midway Motor Lodge. And in the title story, a flavor engineer at Frito-Lay tries to win his boss’s heart with his strategy to reposition Doritos from snack food to main course.
“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”
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”
Mozina now lives in Michigan with his wife, Lorri, and daughter Madeleine
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Watch out for the upcoming book tour for Quality Snacks, starting April 25th, 2014 !