This week’s new book on the shelves here at Fiction Books, coincides with a comprehensive and well organised blog tour and an even more entertaining and thoughtful guest post by the book’s author, Andrew Mozina.
In a wide range of forms and tones, the fifteen stories in Andy Mozina’s new collection, ‘Quality Snacks’, center on high-stakes performances by characters trying to gratify both deep and superficial needs, often with unexpected consequences. Driven by strange ambitions, bungled love, and a taste for—or abject fear of—physical danger, the collection’s characters enact the paradox in the concept of a quality snack: the dream of transmuting the mundane into something extraordinary.
Two teenage boys play chicken on a Milwaukee freeway. A man experiencing a career crisis watches a seventy-four-year-old great grandmother perform an aerial acrobatics routine at the top of a swaying 110-foot pole. Desperate to find a full-time job, a pizza delivery man is fooled into a humiliating sexual demonstration by a couple at a Midway Motor Lodge. A troubled young man tries to end his father’s verbal harassment by successfully hunting a polar bear. After an elf civil war destroys his Christmas operation, Santa Claus reinvents himself as a one-man baseball team and ends up desperate to win a single game. And in the title story, a flavor engineer at Frito-Lay tries to win his boss’s heart with a new strategy for Doritos that aims to reposition the brand from snack food to main course.
While some stories embrace pathos and some are humorous and some are realistic and some contain surreal elements, all of the stories in Quality Snacks share striking insight and a cast of compelling, well-conceived characters. This collection, in an earlier form, has been a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award, the Dzanc Short Story Collection Contest, the Elixir Press Fiction Award, and the Autumn House Fiction Contest, and a semi-finalist for the Mary McCarthy Prize. Readers of fiction will be satisfied by the variety of fare offered by ‘Quality Snacks’.
HI! I’M ANDREW (ANDY) MOZINA
A short story writer, I grew up in Brookfield, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee.
I studied economics at Northwestern University and later attended Harvard Law School for a year. I earned a master’s degree in creative writing from Boston University, then moved to St. Louis where I completed a doctorate in English literature at Washington University.
In 1999, after graduate school, I moved to Kalamazoo, Michigan, to teach literature and creative writing at Kalamazoo College. It is in Michigan where I now live with my wife and daughter.
‘Quality Snacks’, my second collection of short stories, has already made waves, attracting some very positive recognition. The book was a semi-finalist for the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction (2011) and finalist for multiple honors including the Elixir Press Fiction Award (2012), Dzanc Short Story Collection Contest (2012), Flannery O’Connor Short Fiction Award (2011) and the Autumn House Fiction Contest (2011).
My first short story collection, “The Women Were Leaving the Men” was the winner of the 2008 Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award for Fiction and a 2008 finalist for the Glasgow/Shenandoah Prize for Emerging Writers. I am also the non fiction author of “Joseph Conrad and the Art of Sacrifice”
The title story of my new collection, ‘Quality Snacks’, is about a flavor engineer at Frito-Lay who tries to win his boss’s heart with his strategy to reposition Doritos from snack food to main course. People sometimes ask me where my stories come from. Here is one answer.
LETTING THE CHIPS FALL
When I was growing up, potato chips were a luxury. I am the ninth of ten children, and our parents, out of some mix of fiscal constraint and nutritional scruples, rarely let potato chips into our house. Grocery store wheedling was out of the question. Our mother’s last nerve had been destroyed so long ago it was the stuff of legend; in its place was an untestable iron will. On supermarket trips, we helped her steer two grocery carts—piled high like the Grinch’s sleigh with vegetables, Spam and twenty-four packs of toilet paper—in resigned silence.
She cooked in massive quantities. Then there’d be several suppers in a row of leftovers from half a dozen previous meals, reheated on the stove in the same square tins: week-old baked beans; a potato, pea, cheese and hamburger casserole whose palatability declined precipitously the moment it left the oven, much like the value of a new car driven off the lot; beets reheated six or seven times; a sinewy, half-carved turkey leg that had accrued a plastic-like sheen. A child of The Depression, my father mixed wildly disparate foods on his plate and stoically dispatched it; I more than once triggered my gag reflex with a tepid spoonful of remaindered canned corn in its watery juice or sauerkraut well past its prime.
And then, as if by divine intervention, there would suddenly be a night of Sloppy Joes and there in a serving bowl were piled salty and crunchy and utterly fresh and whole Lays potato chips. They were out in the open, in the center of the table, nothing but our parents’ strict morality to keep any one of us from simply snatching the bowl and retreating to some corner of the house where we might get several fistfuls into our mouths before being set upon and brought to justice. As we set the table, we would grin wolfishly at each other, knowing what was coming. The giddiness would crescendo as we all sat down and our father began Grace. As soon as “Amen” was pronounced, each of us four youngest children would desperately buzz in: “Please pass the potato chips!”
“Ahh, yup,” our father would sigh.
By the time I left for college at Northwestern, I had a part-time job at a pizzeria, making my own chip money. I was a Taco Doritos man and would routinely dispatch an entire bag, about seven ounces if I’m remembering right, at a single sitting. Even if I wanted to save some for later, I couldn’t. It was impossible. One of my most forlorn nights of homesickness occurred on a Sunday evening in October, when I developed a mind-altering chip craving. I headed for downtown Evanston, my eyes peeled for a convenience store. In those days, Sherman Avenue offered the Varsity Theatre, a Marshall Fields, and Hoos Drugs, but it was after ten on Sunday night and Hoos was closed. I wandered the poorly lit streets, searching for a White Hen Pantry or gas station. There were none. I returned to my dorm after an hour, badly shaken. The world beyond Brookfield, Wisconsin, was harsher, colder, and less-concerned with my needs than I had thought.
After fifteen years of bumbling through college and enough forms of graduate school to launch a dozen careers, I managed to get a job teaching college English. My wife also had a job. Restricting myself at the grocery store was no longer necessary. I could basically buy as many bags of chips as I wanted. Thus began what I consider to be my golden age of chip enjoyment. Inexplicably, Taco Doritos went into a sort of eclipse, replaced by a dozen different varieties, all of which I sampled. At classier gatherings, I noticed that tortilla chips were not pre-flavored but served with salsa. There were organic blue corn chips at one end of the spectrum and new varieties of flavored Ruffles at the other. Cheddar and Sour Cream became my new go-to chip. I also discovered Fritos “Scoops” and black bean dip. This combination scared me. It was so unbelievably good that I didn’t even let myself think about it. Luckily, the dip I favored was about $6 a jar and some vestige of cheapness kept me from embracing it. Really, I knew that allowing myself to eat Fritos and black bean dip whenever I wanted would not end well.
My job proved to be busier and more stressful than I had imagined. Many was the day when I would pick up our daughter from daycare and hit the grocery store for a rotisserie chicken and a bag of plain Ruffles and a tub of sour cream and onion dip. After I got home, and before putting out supper for my family, I would stand at the counter and eat Ruffles and dip for about ten minutes until I could complete the brutal last third of my day: cooking, grading, giving baths and prepping tomorrow’s classes.
Yes, eventually all of this chip consumption took its toll. Despite a serious beer-drinking habit, I exited high school weighing 160 pounds. Now, in my mid-forties, I could barely close the pants button on my one suit. Something had happened. I weighed 195 pounds—not an outrageous amount, just your average middle-age pudginess, but still 195 and growing. I foresaw a mid-crunch heart attack. Something had to change. At about the same time, the financial crisis struck, gutting our life savings. Austerity was called for. I could no longer blow $1.59 on a bag of Chili Cheese Fritos just to get through the next batch of papers—really, they just left me a little sick and vaguely disoriented yet wanting more.
While researching a short story about a flavor engineer at Frito Lay, I discovered that MSG had addictive properties. It was the key ingredient in Doritos and many other flavored chips and dips. I began to sense myself at the end of the puppet strings of some Frito Lay executive—and I didn’t like it.
I more or less went cold turkey on chips at that point. Just stopped buying them. Good-bye to all that, I said. I began exercising. I created my own trail mix and every month or so I sit for an hour, like a drug dealer with a shipment of pot, parceling my ingredients into two-ounce baggies. One per day. No more.
I still miss chips terribly. Occasionally, I go down the chip aisle at the grocery store and see them in their shiny bags puffed out with pride. I remember the days when I pined for a single chip and days when I had as many as I could stand. As if to tempt me with former glory, Doritos has gone back to their original bag design for Taco. I spot the familiar letters in off-set rectangles on a low shelf. Saliva jets into my mouth, I get a little lightheaded, but I walk on. If we’re lucky, this is life: desire, fulfillment, and then, finally, a turning away, because we must. Our world is too good sometimes, and if we don’t wean ourselves from it, we are lost.
Mailbox Monday is a gathering place for readers to share the books that came into their house during the last week. Be warned that Mailbox Monday can lead to envy toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.
Mailbox Monday now has a permanent home, where links may be added each week. So why not stop by, leave a link to your own Mailbox Monday post, oh! and don’t forget to leave a comment for our three new joint administrators, after all, we all like to receive them … ‘Mailbox Monday’
Leslie of ‘Under My Apple Tree’
Serena of ‘Savvy Verse & Wit’
Vicki of ‘I’d Rather Be At The Beach’
This is a great way to plan out your reading week and see what others are currently reading as well… you never know where that next “must read” book will come from!
‘Quality Snacks’ has already featured over at ‘Weekend Cooking’, as a pre-release promotion, simply based on its ‘foodie’ title. However, now with the book’s release and the very deidedly ‘foodie’ theme of Andrew’s guest post, I thought it worth another mention … Hope you don’t mind!
Weekend Cooking is hosted by Beth F, over at ‘Beth Fish Reads’.
It is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up anytime over the weekend. You do not have to post on the weekend. Please link to your specific post, not your blog’s home page.
When leaving your link, don’t forget to leave a comment for Beth F, we all like to receive comments and share your thoughts.