An Interview with Writer Mike Corrao

We here at Orson's Publishing are beyond thrilled to bring Mike Corrao's Man, Oh Man to you, a novel we've described as, "a humorous yet insightful experiment that'll have you questioning how you've always approached novels." 

Mike Corrao is a young writer and filmmaker working out of Minneapolis, where he earned his B.A. in film and English literature at the University of Minnesota. In 2016 he was an artist-in-residence for the Altered Esthetics Film Festival. His work has appeared in over 20 different publications, including EntropydecomPCleaver, and the Portland ReviewMan, Oh Man is his first novel.

Recently, Mike sat down with us and answered some of our most pressing questions about this project, his journey as a writer and filmmaker, and what it's like being a young storyteller today.

*This interview involves Orson's Publishing (OP) and Mike Corrao (MC).


OP: Can your interest in storytelling be pinpointed to a moment? To a person? What were some difficult choices that you made to get where you are now?
MC: I used to write a lot when I was a child. I would make these really strange short stories. They were kind of like fan fiction. I would combine every videogame and cartoon that I liked and try to make some grandiose fantasy out of them. I remember one of them was a combination of Final Fantasy, Ghost Rider, and Diablo. They were completely ridiculous. After that, when I was in middle school and high school, I didn’t write all that much. I actually started college as a biochemistry major. I’m trying to think what made me want to start writing again. There were two professors I would always talk to. Honestly, that first year, I think that I spent more time in their offices than with any of the other students. They recommended more books than I could ever read. Stuff like Michel Foucault, Philip K Dick, Lydia Davis, Haruki Murakami. All really exciting writers/thinkers, all doing really interesting stuff. The originality and creativity in their work was really inspiring at the time. Soon after that, I started writing again. I switched from studying biochemistry in Wisconsin to studying film and literature in Minnesota. It was a difficult decision initially, changing my life around like that, but I’m really glad that I went through with it. I think that I owe a lot of my success to that decision.

OP: You’re twenty-one years old. Which is incredibly young for the writing world. Does age matter? If so, how does your age benefit you as a writer? How has it benefitted Man, Oh Man
MC: I think about this question a lot. I don’t think that age really matters. I think what matters is how much time you’ve put into writing, and how effectively you’ve used that time. You have to take the time to learn what works and what doesn’t. You can do that at twenty or you can do that at sixty. I think that writing when you’re young relieves a lot of pressure. You have the time to experiment and play around with ideas. I think that Man, Oh Man greatly benefitted from my being in college at the time. I was taking a lot of cultural studies and literature classes. I was reading these dense critical texts on a weekly basis. I was in this saturated environment which fed the conversations the characters would have. In many ways, they’re products of my fascination and infuriation with these texts.

OP: In addition to writing fiction, you’re also a filmmaker. Is it difficult knowing what should be written as fiction and what should be written as a script? How can you tell?
MC: It’s surprisingly easy haha. Film and fiction are very different beasts. And for me, they kind of develop in different spheres. When I have an idea, the first thing I ask myself is about structure. How should the story be presented, what should it look like? If an idea is comprised mainly of linguistic or abstract characteristics, then I’ll begin treating it like a short story. I’ll ask myself what it should look like on the page, what the progression should be, who these things should happen to, etc. When the idea is comprised of a lot of visual elements, I’ll give it a little more time in my head. I’ll probably scribble down a couple of images that I think compliment the idea, and then I’ll text my cinematographer, Rob Prochnow (extremely talented guy). We’ll find a time to sit down and talk. We’ll see if it’s something we want to make, and go from there. The most important difference between fiction and film is collaboration. You don’t need other people if you want to start writing a story, but if you want to make a film, you really do. And when you bring in those other people, their artistic desire will inevitably seep into the work. It’s all a matter of finding artists whose work is complimented by your writing, and vice versa. 

OP: What has been your biggest sacrifice so far in order to pursue writing & filmmaking?
MC: I tend to put writing and filmmaking before everything else. When I’m in the middle of a large project, I won’t get any sleep, or I’ll forget to eat, or I’ll flake on plans with friends. It can almost feel as if you’re possessed. Writing is a compulsion. There are other things you should be doing, but it drags you forward regardless.

OP: What’s your writing process like? What about your revision process?
MC: It’s a bit of a long haul. Once I have an idea and I’m ready to get going, I’ll sit down at my desk and just go for it. Usually I’ll work in three or four hour shifts. It helps me to just sit with a piece and try to work through it. If I walk away or try to revisit it much later, I might lose the kind of momentum that I have in that moment, or forget the beats that I had planned in my head. The revision process begins when I run out of ideas or need a break. I’ll go back to the start of the document and start re-reading the sentences, cleaning up the messier ones and fixing the grammar. Then, when the piece is finished, I’ll read through it probably four more times on my own. I have a few friends who aren’t afraid to berate me. I’ll send the stories their way if they have the time to take a look. I like the blunt responses they give me. If there’s an issue, I want to know straight away so I can try to fix it. The project is more important than my ego.

OP: How do you usually break ground on a new project? Is it the same every time?
MC: Ideas used to just appear in my head, I’d flesh them out in my notebook, and then work from there. Recently, I’ve found myself latching onto out-of-context phrases. I’ll hear something in a movie, on YouTube, on the bus, etc. and try to understand some way that I could use it. I like the idea of pulling ideas out of the unconscious, finding those words my brain latches onto without my telling it to. 

OP: What do you want most out of your audience?
MC:  This is a bit of a difficult question for me. At the very least, I want them to get something out of this book. I don’t want it to be a novelty, or something that they skim and then forget about. I hope that I’ve made something that people can find enjoyment in, and that they read and reread.

OP: How did the idea of Man, Oh Man come to you?
MC: I was taking a lot of classes about cultural studies and literary criticism at the time. I kept imaging these two idiots arguing about all the texts that we were reading. So I started thinking about who these people would be, and what could make them sit there and talk for so long about such stupid things. I remember telling a friend about the idea after I decided that I wanted Man, Oh Man to be a novel. I think I described it as, “two dumbasses who won’t shut up.”

OP: What about Man, Oh Man was a challenge for you to write?
MC: With the book being mostly dialogue, it was hard to figure out when it was best to interrupt the speaking with narration, and how that narration should look. I didn’t want the interruptions to feel like white noise, like something you should skip or not care about, and I didn’t want them to feel like the dialogue. I also didn’t want to ruin the flow of the book. I wanted the narration to inform the conversations and enhance the experience.

OP: What about Man, Oh Man was easy for you to write?
MC: Funny enough, the dialogue came pretty naturally. Once I figured out who the characters were, it was just a matter of letting them talk, and allowing their personalities develop in these circumstances organically. 

OP: I think you have an exceptional ear for dialogue, and that that’s on full display in Man, Oh Man. I know that dialogue can be tricky for a lot of writers to pin down – do you have any advice for how best to approach it?
MC: Thank you! I’ve always been really fascinated by dialogue. I love watching characters interact. I think that good dialogue comes from understanding your speakers, and that means understanding the kind of specialized language they use (do they say that something “sucks” or “that’s trash” or “that’s shitty”). It’s important to realize that people don’t just have different perspectives, but different ways of speaking as well, and that those ways of speaking often won’t look like the narration.

OP: Something I love about Man, Oh Man is how simultaneously unaware and self-aware the two main characters are. What was it like finding their voices? Can their inspiration be pinpointed?
MC: While I was making the novel, I joked a lot with my friends that the two main characters were just me sitting alone bickering with myself. Hopefully that isn’t true anymore haha. I knew from the beginning that I wanted them to be these kind of pseudo-intellectual idiots. From there it was just a matter of giving them the topics to talk about, and the circumstances to drive them mad. For most of my work, the voice of the characters really comes to life with the dialogue. I often write a couple of pages of conversation before moving into the real project. It’s good to have that time to really figure out who these people are before deciding what kind of choices they are or aren’t going to make.

OP: Man, Oh Man comes in at just over 100 pages and can be read in one sitting. Was a short novel premeditated, or was it something that just sort of happened?
MC: I really love this idea of the short novel, something that you can finish in one sitting as you do with movies. It turns the book into one cohesive experience. Having such little time also allows me to play with ideas that might not be able to sustain themselves for 200 or 300 pages. I only want to use up the amount of space that I need to. I also think that the book becomes more approachable at this length. Especially for how strange something like Man, Oh Man is. You don’t have to dedicate six or seven hours, you can sit down for two or three and experience the strange purgatory that these two have found themselves in. At the moment, I’m really happy and motivated working in this 80 to 150 page range that I’ve allotted myself.

OP: Give ten words of advice for aspiring storytellers.
MC: You’ll be bad before you’re good and that’s okay.

OP: Tell us about where you’re from. Does where you're from impact what you read and what you create? 
MC: I grew up in Southeast Wisconsin, but I’ve lived in Minneapolis for the last three, almost four, years. I think that Minneapolis has had a much greater impact on me. There are so many great artists here. I find a lot of my inspiration in the conversations that I have with other writers, filmmakers who live in the area.

OP: Tell us about where you’re going. Where do you hope this creative journey leads you?
MC: It’s really tempting to put something arrogant here, to say “I want to be the greatest writer of my generation” or something flagrant like that. I’m not really sure though. I’d love to be able to live off the money I make writing, and for it to inspire others to put together their own work. My desire to write stems from this compulsion I have. I feel like I have to write. It’s not a choice. I never really think about whether I should stop or keep going. It’s all a matter of what I have to do to sustain my ability to continue making more projects.

OP: Are you reading anything right now that excites you?
MC:  I’ve been kind of obsessed with Mike Kleine’s work recently. He’s written books like Kanley Stubrick and Mystery of the Seventeen Pilot Fish (both great). They’re these strange and mysterious, almost Dadaist pieces of writing. He’s also been releasing these short online games lately. He’s an incredibly interesting artist and I’m looking forward to whatever he does next.

OP: What’s the most impactful film you’ve seen recently? 
MC:  I just rewatched Tarkovsky’s Stalker the other night with a couple of friends. I’d forgotten how incredibly beautiful the movie is. It’s so slow and dream-like. It takes place in this “zone” full of anomalies. Seeing something like that makes me real excited. The movie is so lush and full of ideas.

OP: Do you think the novel as a form is heading in the right direction?
MC: I think so. I’ve been seeing a lot of innovative work lately, even from some of the larger commercial publishers. I think that the medium has a lot more leeway than people think it does. Cesar Aira calls his work, “something that resembles a novel,” and I like that a lot, this idea that although these new books resemble novels, they are doing something new and unconventional. There’s a way in which these new novels are beginning to resemble poetry. They have this kind of abstract quality. Or an aura maybe. It makes them feels vast and intimate.

OP: Name one writer you’d love to collaborate with? Filmmaker?
MC:  A writer/filmmaker who is simultaneously Mike Kleine, Nick Francis Potter, Valeria Luiselli, the Safdie Brothers and Alejandro Jodorowksy.

OP: Any idea what your next project will be?
MC: I feel like I’m always working on something. I have three books right now that I’m trying to market to various publishers. The most recent of them is called, The Mobile Collage. It’s a novel about how uncanny living in the city can be. It deals with themes of mutation, paranoia, performance, memory. It’s something that I’ve been sitting on for a while and I’m thrilled to have a polished draft finally put together.

OP: Where can readers find your writing?
MC: Places like Fanzine, Cleaver, decomP, and The Portland Review. I have a website (www.mikecorrao.com) where all of my published writing is linked, along with a couple of my short films.


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Mike Corrao is a young writer and filmmaker working out of Minneapolis, where he earned his B.A. in film and English literature at the University of Minnesota. In 2016 he was an artist-in-residence for the Altered Esthetics Film Festival. His work has appeared in over 20 different publications, including EntropydecomPCleaver, and the Portland Review

Man, Oh Man is his first novel.