Nights at the store, the brother and sister bagged the groceries that tumbled down the conveyors, rarely looking up, a simple nod of the head at a thanks from a customer. The girl, Merrill, was fifteen and quite tall for her age. The brother, Nate, was sixteen and trying to grow a moustache. He often wore a green knit hat. They didn’t talk much with the cashiers or the manager. A yes sir, no ma’am here and there. When the store was slow, they brought in the carts, held contests between each other: who could bring in the most. Other times, one of them would take the push broom and move down the aisles, collecting the candy wrappers, the spilled sugar, the vegetable leaves in the produce corner, while the other rotated stock, made the shelves look full. They had a rubber ball, the size of a tennis ball, but bright red that they played a game with, sometimes down an empty aisle and sometimes in the parking lot. There were rules involved in the game, it was clear to the manager the times he watched them: the number of bounces, the left or right hand that they sometimes grabbed with, sometimes slapped back. Often enough, they simply rolled the ball to each other, set it to strange spins, and after, they would hold up fingers – between two and five, he could never predict. When he asked the girl about the rules, she simply blushed and looked at the floor, like she’d been caught stealing something.
-Excerpt from Thieves I’ve Known
Late Night Library: Summarize your book in 10 words or fewer.
Tom Kealey: Stories about circuses, boxers, altar boys, and stealing police cars.
LNL: If this book were the lovechild of two others, who are its parents?
TK: This is a challenging question, but really enjoyable to think about. I would say Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich and Back in the World by Tobias Wolff. I know that when I was stuck while writing Thieves I’ve Known, those were often two books that could get me unstuck.
LNL: What ingredients go into the recipe of your writing style?
TK: Let’s make Thieves I’ve Known a soup. Start with a base of troubled, yet determined kids. Chop up some unusual settings such as a schoolbus sunk in a lake, or a purgatory for shoes and boots, or circuses and cemeteries, or outer space. Stir in humor, ghostly dialogue, and characters lost in memory. It seems like there is a mule in each story for some reason, plus people swimming across bodies of water. Make sure the character Merrill shows up in most of the stories. Sprinkle with bad weather, plot misdirection, and a little sign language. Season to taste and enjoy!
LNL: Name one book you wish you could read again for the first time.
TK: Into the Wild by John Krakauer. Oh wow. My writing changed the night I read that book. That kid’s story is true, deep, misguided, admirable, humorous, tragic, and meaningful. I get chills even thinking about it.
LNL: Answer a question you wish people would ask you about writing.
TK: Yes, I’m afraid that I actually do believe that my characters are alive out there in the world somewhere.
Get a copy of Thieve’s I’ve Known from Indiebound
Tom Kealey is the author of Thieves I’ve Known, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award, and named by NPR as one of 2013’s Best Reads. Tom is also the author of The Creative Writing MFA Handbook. His work has appeared in Best American Nonrequired Reading, Glimmer Train, The Rumpus, and many other places. Tom has taught creative writing at Stanford University since 2003. More at tom-kealey.com.