Accretion Formula

Daniel Orozco possesses the best parts of Charlie Sheen and a tortoise. He writes very slowly, and he is always winning.

The cover of Daniel Orozco's Orientation
The cover of Daniel Orozco's Orientation

The first story U of I writing professor Daniel Orozco ever published made Best American Short Stories collection. Since then he has averaged one new piece every two years, not writing stories so much as “accreting” them, paragraph by paragraph, month after month.

Pretty much everything he writes lands somewhere essential (Best American Essays, Best American Mystery Stories, a Pushcart Prize anthology) or at least important (Harper’s, Mc- Sweeney’s, Zoetrope). His entire output to date is contained in his slim new collection, Orientation.

We caught up with Orozco on Monday, just after he got back from his book tour, something he predicted he was going to hate a year ago. We talked for a really long time. Here is five percent of the conversation:

INLANDER: So? Was it as bad as you expected?

OROZCO: No, but I’m still not crazy about [touring]. You know what I mean? I don’t like to travel. I don’t like to engage people to the point where it kind of becomes automatic. … It never really feels, um, genuine.”

You write slowly. Have you gotten faster?

I’m probably more confident than I used to be. I will try something and see if it works and follow through on it, whereas like 10 or 15 years ago I would have to think about it for months and months and months before I even attempted it.

Your stories tend to be about normal people. Are you trying to lionize the Everyman?

I’m really interested in trying to convey the lives of people on the margins. People that no one notices. Can I engage a reader in a drama about a life that normally they may not be interested in? The challenge there is all about not the story you’re telling but the way you tell it. That’s the art of creating a story. If you can tap that, you can tell a story about anything.

You’ve said that as a young man there was nothing you enjoyed and then you found writing, and found something approaching joy — have you reached joy yet?

[Laughs] If I found out either A, I had terminal cancer, or B, that I won the lottery, for the first 48 hours my reaction would be the same: Oh shit. This is new … My big fear is that I’ll get smug and complacent and the good work will not happen anymore. But I’m as happy as I can be. I am approaching joy, let’s just put it that way.

The march continues.

Yes, the march — the trudge — continues.

Daniel Orozco’s Orientation is available at Auntie’s Bookstore.

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About The Author

Luke Baumgarten

Luke Baumgarten is commentary contributor and former culture editor of the Inlander. He is a creative strategist at Seven2 and co-founder of Terrain.