Editor’s Note: This exchange is part of a series of brief interviews with emerging writers of recent or forthcoming books. If you enjoyed it, please visit other interviews in the I’ve Got Questions feature.
- What’s the title of your book? Fiction? Nonfiction? Poetry? Who is the publisher and what’s the publication date?
Four Dead Horses, fiction, Regal House Publishing, released on April 19, 2021
- In a couple of sentences, what’s the book about?
Four Dead Horses is about cowboy poetry and the equinophobic Midwestern pet mortician who loves it. All Martin Oliphant wants is to leave his small hometown of Pierre, Michigan and recite cowboy poetry at the annual Elko Cowboy Poetry Confluence, but at every turn his family and happenstance (but mostly his family) prevent him. Martin is 20 and vacationing with his family at Jimmy Sneedle’s Tennis and Dude Ranch when Beaufort Giles introduces him to cowboy poetry and his daughter, Ginger, a red-headed rodeo queen. Until that moment, Martin had been facing abandoning his studies to care for his mother during treatment for breast cancer (tennis elbow, she insists), while his father and brother shamelessly plan to desert them. Through his mother’s lingering illness and his father’s senility, through a career that takes him from the local newspaper to his own establishment as a pet mortician, cowboy poetry and Ginger are the twin stars that guide and sustain Martin.
- What’s the book’s genre (for fiction and nonfiction) or primary style (for poetry)?
It’s literary fiction, a black comedy varietal.
- What’s the nicest thing anyone has said about the book so far?
People have been so kind, it’s hard to choose. Dana Spiotta (author of Innocents and Others) called it “a wild, sharp-edged, wickedly funny debut novel,” which I do love, but I think the blurb that captures it best is from CJ Hauser (author of Family of Origin): “Sparks writes with ecstatic generosity of spirit, wicked humor, and doesn’t flinch as she stares down the sometimes-tragedy of everyday American living” – because that’s what I was going for.
- What book or books is yours comparable to or a cross between?
If Frank Capra and the Coen brothers collaborated on A Confederacy of Dunces and set it in the Upper Midwest, I think you’d get something like Four Dead Horses.
- Why this book? Why now?
I think I lucked out on the timing a little bit, with Four Dead Horses coming out right as the pandemic is starting to ease (STOP READING AND GO GET VACCINATED RIGHT NOW IF YOU HAVE NOT YET – C’MON PEOPLE WE’RE ALMOST THERE). In one way, the novel is about getting through the bad times by dreaming of the best times – and even if those dreams are completely unrealistic, finding out they can come true, even if not word-for-word true, even if, as the great David Bowie said, “just for one day.” There’s hope in that, along with not a little humor, and we could all use a bit of hope and humor to get us through the last of this slog.
- Other than writing this book, what’s the best job you’ve ever had?
Speechwriter and legislative director for (now retired) Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI).
- What do you want readers to take away from the book?
That people are complicated, that true love is inexplicable, that dreams can destroy you, that dreams can sustain you, that dreams can redeem you, that everyone is on some sort of hero’s journey that is oh-so tragic but also funny as hell.
What food and/or music do you associate with the book?
I got asked to do a playlist for the novel by the literature and music blog, largehearted boy (which you all should subscribe to if you don’t already—it’s so much fun), so I thought a lot about this. This is what I wrote there: “The wannabe hero of my novel Martin Oliphant, grows up in the upper Midwest in the seventies and early eighties–as I did–and thus the soundtrack of his life is the (now) classic (then “popular”) and hard rock of that era and the (even more) classic sounds of the late sixties-early seventies bands shared by older siblings and the cool stoners a couple of years ahead in school. He would have consumed the music from the transistor radio he got for his thirteenth birthday, off mix tapes recorded with a cassette player held next to the stereo, through speakers at roller and ice rinks that blasted it out in between warnings against crack-the whip, and in high school gyms at dances deejayed by the kid with the best Panasonic hi-fi speakers.”
- What book(s) are you reading currently?
Just finished The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin (loved it) and Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (loved it) and started Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid (loving it).
Learn more about KT at her website.