Friday, August 8, 2014

INTERVIEW: DONAL MAHONEY


Name: Donal Mahoney 

The name "Donal," with its long "o," is Gaelic for Daniel, a name given to me by my Irish immigrant parents and a name everyone thinks I've misspelled all my life.  

Location: 

I live in St. Louis, Missouri, although I was born, reared, educated and worked most of my life in Chicago, a city I still miss even though I will probably live longer in St. Louis despite my fondness for such local delicacies as biscuits and gravy.

How long have you been writing: 

I had my first poem published in 1961 with 100 or more poems subsequently published in print literary magazines during the next 11 years. I quit writing in 1972 and did not start again until 2008. I took that hiatus because of increasingly demanding editorial jobs. I got paid to edit publications and with five children that was important.

After I retired, my wife bought me a Macintosh computer and showed me the cardboard boxes in the basement that held my rough drafts from decades earlier. I've been writing ever since 2008 and have appeared largely in web publications although sometimes I have poems and stories appear in print as well. 

Do you have a specific writing style: 

If I have a specific writing style I don’t know what it is. I write what I “hear” if that makes any sense.

I have a couple of degrees in English with no courses in literature after the Victorian period. I never took a writing course or participated in a workshop. For better or worse, I’m not attracted to either.

When I was very young I liked the still-alive-then Gregory Corso. Later I appeared in some Irish print publications and read poems by the then-unknown Seamus Heaney, eventual winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, who recently died. The first time I read his work I knew there was Heaney and the rest of us even if many of the "rest of us" may have resented his brilliance. I don't think he influenced me directly but indirectly perhaps so since we were both reared in households where the Irish brogue was the dialect of the day and night. The rhythm of reels, jigs and hornpipes grace Heaney’s  sentences and sometimes perhaps a few of mine.

Do you write as a career? 

I have never considered my writing a career. I got paid to be an editor and although I did some writing in that capacity, I considered it to be journalism or something that passed for journalism.

Writing my own stuff is something I do because I like it. Some might say I do it because it is a safe outlet for an obsessive-compulsive personality whose other possible avenues might be harmful in one way or another.

Do you write full-time? 

I probably write--and largely rewrite--between six and nine hours a day in three different shifts. Usually seven days a week unless some appointment makes that impossible. 

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment as a writer? 

I can't think of any accomplishment that I think of as "great." I'm just thankful now to have the time to write as much as I want. 

What is your ultimate goal as a writer? 

I suppose like many writers I'd like to produce a book but the aggravation of picking poems and, worse, finding a publisher makes that effort seem not to be worth it in terms of the time I would have to devote to it. 

If I were younger I’d sort the 500 or so poems into chapbooks with common themes and try to get them published and later on try for one big book. But that’s a pipe dream at the moment. It would mean putting on the editor’s hat again and putting away my quill.

What is your greatest challenge as a writer? 

I have have been near-sighted since third grade and have developed dry macular degeneration in the early stages so spotting typos now is a problem. I solve this by writing in bold, probably to the distress of editors who read my work. 

What projects of yours have been recently published? 

Since returning to writing I have had work published at many sites in the U.S. and abroad with most of the work appearing at two sites: Eye on Life Magazine, where the poetry editor is Tom Rubenoff, and The Camel Saloon, where the editor is Russell Streur. They are two very different men in their tastes and that suits my split writing personality perfectly. I owe both of them a great deal.

I have to thank Russell for telling me long ago that a poem I had sent him might work better as fiction. I had never tried fiction but did so with his encouragement. Since then maybe 40 pieces of flash fiction or fiction have been published.

I have to thank Tom Rubenoff for his insight into poetry even if the style and the subject matter is far afield from what he might deal with in his own work. He would make a good ambassador to Ireland in rambunctious times. Patience he has out the wazoo.

Both of these Streur and Rubenoff have one thing in common as editors: You don't have to wait very long to get a yes or no. They answer promptly either way and I appreciate that. There are other sites that take weeks if not months to get back to a writer. The editor of this site is also very quick to respond and I think any writer appreciates that.

What are you currently working on and what inspired this work? 

I continue to work on poems and fiction. Usually a line, as opposed to an idea, comes into my mind and it's the start of poem that I follow until I have a first draft that I can revise till it no longer sickens me.

I seldom if ever know where a poem will take me. Sometimes the poem doesn't work out and I remember Russell Streur's advice to see if it will work as fiction. Sometimes it does. 

Where can we find your work? 

Probably the best way is to Google my name with quotes around it--"Donal Mahoney"--or to look at one of these sites:






How do you react to rejections? 

Rejections don't bother me as much as they did when I was young and impressionable because I have discovered that what one editor may not want another editor will. I don't think I have ever "finished" something that did not get published somewhere. 

How do you react when one of your submissions is accepted for publication? 

I'm happy, of course. to have a piece accepted any time but that leads to what I call "bookkeeping"--namely, recording the publication date, place, etc., and that takes time away from writing and rewriting.

Rewriting, as many writers often say, is what's important. I might do 30 drafts of a poem or story before gasping and saying I can do no more and then send it out. And then revise it again if it gets bounced.

What is your best piece of advice on how to stay sane as a writer? 

If I were sane, I would have gone to law school as my father wanted me to do rather than graduate school in English. But I loved words and ran into a Benedictine monk who threw words around his classroom with accurate abandon and I fell in love with words even more.

The only reason I majored in English is because it was the only subject I was good at. I went to college to play basketball and to stay out of the armed services. They were drafting people then. I was not a pacifist but I did not like the idea of boot camp.

In grammar and high school I got by in math and science but had no gift for either. But I could always spell and the nuns gave me a pass, I suspect, on some disciplinary matters because I was one of the few boys who did well in spelling bees.

I was not a nerd in that I loved all sports and was fairly good in a couple of them. But if I saw a word I usually remembered how it was spelled despite not having a photographic memory. I saved a job once at a Chicago newspaper by spelling ukulele correctly. 

What is your favorite book? 

Sadly, the book that changed my life was J.D. Salinger's "The Catcher in the Rye." Any thought I had of going to law school or into business was decimated by that book as well as by his collections of short stories.

I was disturbed to read recently than many fans of "The Catcher" have committed suicide for some reason I can't fathom. I have never thought of killing myself although I may have sometimes wished someone else would go to heaven as soon as possible. 

I liked Salinger because of his hatred for “phoniness” which is what made it difficult for me to earn my living in a suit and tie all those years even though I had white collar skills and only one blue collar skill. I think I can still operate a hammer.

Phoniness is rampant in offices and I came from a blue collar background where people were not perfect but they were direct.

Who is your favorite author? 

Seamus Heaney.

If you could have dinner with one fictional character, who would it be and why? 

I suppose I would have to say Holden Caulfield from “The Catcher” if he brought Salinger with him. 

What is the greatest occupational hazard for a writer? 

I can't answer that from personal experience. I have never run dry yet. But then I don't try to think about what to write. Odd lines come to me while brushing my teeth and I follow those lines till I get a first draft of a poem or story and then I rewrite forever or until I can't stand to read it again.

I think it helps to be competitive. By that I mean one has to compete with oneself, not with others. You have to fight human nature to get things done. You have to care about what you do and never be satisfied with the result even if you at the moment cannot make the piece any better. Some great poet once said a poem is never finished, "simply abandoned." I agree completely.

What is your favorite word? 

Probably ukulele since being able to spell it helped me keep a job when I needed that job. 

What makes you laugh? 

The juxtaposition of the ordinary and the extraordinary. I also enjoy reading the reasons some folks don't believe in God. I wish Christopher Hitchens could come back and tell us Who he met immediately on the other side. 

What makes you cry? 

 I don't think I cried at all till I was quite old and then for some reason memories, good and bad, sometimes trigger tears. The death of someone also moves me now. A dentist I hardly knew except professionally dropped dead despite getting a lot of exercise. I hated to hear that he died but I used that as an example once again for my wife as to why I believe in Recliner Therapy. Wiggle one's toes at least thrice a day. 

What is your preferred drink while you write? 

Water. Sometimes I think I should never have quit drinking many decades ago but I am bad enough to be around when I’m sober which is all the time now. Drugs were not part of the scene when I was young. Quarts of beer after a basketball game and vodka and Squirt on weekends were my problem.

Beach or Mountains? 

Neither, sadly. If it weren't for the drive-by shootings pandemic in big cities today, I'd prefer a walk down a deserted business street with neon glowing at midnight and a dog crossing the street with a sideways canter.


Cats or Dogs? 

Cats, i suppose, since I've been feeding ferals every morning for years without one meow of thanks. They like my wife and let me feed them.

The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? 

Neither, but I would take the Stones over the Beatles because the latter would have gotten thumped in the Chicago neighborhood of my youth. I think the Stones might have gotten out alive.

Jimi Hendrix or Frank Sinatra? 

Sinatra, without question. Just as Astaire over Gene Kelly.

Shakespeare or Bukowski? 

I'd have to say Shakespeare because a little of Bukowski was enough for me and I had to take a course in Shakespeare. I have always wondered if Bukowski rewrote anything or sent out first drafts. I know that may make me sound pompous but that’s how I feel when I read him. I could see the genius in Shakespeare even if in my youth he bored me due to my own ignorance. I wasn’t ready for Shakespeare and I may be totally wrong about Bukowski who looked like I might have looked if I had not quit drinking.


Please provide as much or as little of the following information as you’d like.

Some of my poetry and fiction can be found on these websites and blogs:






Anything you’d like to share about your country, its people, or native animals? 

     Although I am Irish in ancestry, mood and temperament, I have to be deeply thankful to America for giving by immigrant father an opportunity to become an electrician after he emigrated here as a gravedigger and boxer.

America still has terrible problems but I don't think other nations have thousands of children from other countries trying to sneak across its borders. 

In addition to being good to my father, America has been very good to me. I have a great deal to be thankful for and much of it is do to the opportunities I found in America for someone whose one skill was being able to spell and who knew the difference between a semi-colon and a colon. If most journalists knew that before computers came in, I might have had a tough time finding work as an editor.

Thanks for the opportunity of talking for so long and making me think about what it is I think at this stage of my life. 

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