Today on my blog I have an interview with Dan Brotzel. His book, ‘Hotel du Jack’, a debut collection of short stories, was published in paperback and as an eBook by Sandstone Press on the 23rd January 2020.
I have been sent a copy of your book and am really looking forward to reading it. For the benefit of my readers can you please tell me a bit about ‘Hotel du Jack’?
Thank you so much for reading, Sonya! Hotel du Jack is a collection of short stories that I mostly wrote over the last 4-5 years. They tend to be funny-sad in tone, and look at things like parental guilt, dodgy gurus, the nightmare of office life, failed relationships, grief, ageing, wondering where your life went wrong etc – often quite domestic themes, but with a bit of a dark edge to them.
I’m interested in playing with different voices and unusual structures too. So in here you get stories in the form of a product recall notification, a dishwasher glossary, a grammar lesson, a shopping list – not to mention a strange ghost story in the form of a neighbourhood forum chat!
Have you been writing short stories for long?
I’ve been trying to write fiction for about 30 years, but I always thought I had to start with a novel. Then, about five years ago, I suddenly had the brainwave of writing shorter things. I’ve not been able to stop since…
Where have you had your short stories published?
My stories have appeared in lots of literary mags, such as Pithead Chapel, Ellipsis Zine, Reflex Fiction, Cabinet of Heed, Bending Genres, The Esthetic Apostle, Spelk, Ginger Collect and Fiction Pool. I won the 2019 Riptide Journal short story competition, was runner-up in the 2019 Leicester Writes contest, and was highly commended in the Manchester Writing School competition 2018 too. A couple of my stories have recently been nominated for the Pushcart anthology in the US too.
Where do you get your ideas from?
Often they come from something that I’ve seen or experienced that I can then use as a sort of prompt to make up from there. The title story for Hotel du Jack, for example, came from a man spotted on a beach who looked like a body-builder and seemed more interested in his quads than his kids. At the same time I was reading an Anita Brookner novel, and I thought it would be funny to see what would happen if I put these two things together. Another story, ‘Ella G in a Country Churchyard’ is based on me trying to explain death to my young daughter.
But as I write more stories, I find they are often less based on direct experience. ‘Now and For Ever’, for example, is based on an idea I had about a dubious guru who preaches that everyone can become immortal but finds himself terrified on his own deathbed, while ‘Nothing So Blue’ simply came from my son telling me to ‘write a story about being invisible’. I suddenly thought: What if being invisible turned out to be rubbish, and it just went from there…
Are there plans for anymore of your stories to be published as a collection?
I really hope so! I’m about halfway through getting enough stories together for another collection (working title: The Grace Period), so we shall see…
Have you got any other writing projects on the go?
Yes! I’ve got a comic novel coming out with Unbound in early 2021. It’s called Kitten on a Fatberg and it’s about a group of very eccentric wannabe writers… I’m also putting the finishing touches to another comic novel just now, a solo effort this time, called The Wolf in the Woods.
What do you hope readers will get from your stories?
Well, I’ve had some lovely reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. For example: ‘Life affirming, heartbreaking, quietly hilarious. A joy.’ And: ‘Hotel du Jack offers the chance to see life through many lenses; the joyful, the sad, the heartwarming and the hilarious are all treated with the same sharp wit and keen insight into the beauty of the mundane.’ I’m so thrilled with comments like these because they say better than me what I’d hoped for these stories – that they make people smile, maybe nod their heads in recognition, and feel they are not alone in being less than perfect! I love finding beauty and poignancy in every day things – or as Updike put it, ‘to give the mundane its beautiful due’.
What advice would you give to someone wishing to submit short stories to magazines?
Go for it. Just do it and keep doing it! Write a story and submit it to 20 places! Then write another while you are waiting! The most important thing is just to keep plugging away and not to waste time on doubting yourself – all writers do, I think, but over time you can learn to focus your thoughts elsewhere. There are so many wonderful litmags out there – all the ones I mention above, for example – that are really supportive of new writers, often giving feedback when they turn a piece down. And on Twitter there’s a lively community of writers who are are really supportive and generous with each other too. It’s an inspiring thing to find, especially when there’s so much bad news around. Also – enter short story competitions. Again, there are loads, and each one comes of course with a deadline (and sometimes a prompt), which focuses the mind wonderfully…
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I write! Also, I have three young children, so that takes care of most of my time. I play tennis badly too. But mostly, I write.
Who are your favourite authors?
They change all the time. But at the mo, off the top of my head, maybe Malcolm Lowry, Joyce Carole Oates, Jonathan Coe, Siri Hustvedt, Paul Theroux, Gary Shteyngart… I could go on!
A woman granted a superpower discovers it’s more trouble than it’s worth. A neighbourhood forum becomes the setting for a bizarre ghost story. A children’s entertainer wrestles with problems that are nothing to joke about. A harassed dad attempts to meet the challenge of the primary school cake competition.
By turns tender and satirical, witty and bizarre, the stories in this debut collection cast a fresh eye on first-world problems. Funny and humane, they zoom in on the absurdities and poignancies in work, family, love and loss in our frenetic modern lives.
About Dan Brotzel
Dan Brotzel’s stories have appeared in Pithead Chapel, Ellipsis Zine, Reflex Fiction, Cabinet of Heed, Lucent Dreaming, Bending Genres, The Esthetic Apostle, Spelk, The Ginger Collect and Fiction Pool. He won the 2018 Riptide Journal short story competition, was runner-up in the 2019 Leicester Writes competition, and was highly commended in the Manchester Writing School competition 2018. He is also coauthor of a comic novel-in-emails about an eccentric writers’ group, Kitten on a Fatberg (Unbound).
He lives in London with his partner Eve and their three children.
‘Hotel du Jack’ is available from Amazon UK – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Hotel-du-Jack-Other-Stories-ebook/dp/B07YF61DMZ/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1585032597&sr=8-1
Twitter – https://twitter.com/brotzel_fiction