When asked if South Florida in general -- and Miami Beach specifically -- served as an inspiration for the ticky-tacky resort setting of "The Last Single Days of Don Viktor Potapenko," one of twelve short stories in his just-published collection My Life in Heavy Metal, Steve Almond nods his head slightly and smiles. "Oh, yeah, I feel a powerful attachment to the place," he admits. "The landscape and the ocean, the sort of poetic squalor of it. All the images in that story come straight out of swimming out at dusk into the ocean and lying there and looking at the strip, the neon, and the glow of it."
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No stranger to the SoFla gestalt, Almond spent 1991 to 1995 as a staff writer at this newspaper, where his stories won a peck of awards. The experience primed him for the transition to fiction. "[Journalism] is the best training in the world," he contends. "You hear people's rhythms, the way they speak, their intonations, their gestures."
Now 35, Almond began writing fiction in his spare time in 1994. He moved on to the University of North Carolina at Greensboro's two-year MFA program in 1995, committing to fiction full time. Currently he teaches creative writing at Boston College.
Mostly, though, he writes, with about 60 published stories to date, in magazines such as Playboy and Zoetrope. Many, including the bulk of Heavy Metal, chart the romantic entanglements of young adults. "I know this terrain," Almond sighs. "I wish I didn't, but sadly I do -- people grinding through their twenties and thirties with all the danger of erotic attachment and none of the stability."
But if his protagonists, primarily male, suffer through relationship dysfunction, Almond undergirds his stories with a glimmer of hope, filtered through the distorting prism of memory. "I'm fascinated by the idea of the past as a receptacle of regrets," he notes. "Nostalgia just burnishes all of those wonderful, shimmering moments -- and you forget that you were restless and bored and it wasn't right."