Abraham S. “Abe” Aamidor is a former daily newspaper reporter and suggests writing about what you really believe in and what you’re most passionate about. That’s part of being a successful writer, he says. Another key to success is identifying topics that have not been studied to death and picking out what you’re qualified to write about. Some of Aamidor’s books are published under his full first name Abraham, while others are published under his nickname, Abe Aamidor is a University of Chicago graduate (AB, Philosophy, 1969) and was born in Memphis, but grew up in Chicago from age 7.
Amoskeag: The 2012 issue has come to be known as the “Identity” issue; in what way does your work deal with “identity?”
Abe Aamidor: The story, “Delivery,” is about lost youth remembered in old age, and a fondness for a truer time, as corny or even reactionary as that may sound. The old man who is provoked to remember his youth by an unexpected delivery in the mail is not less valid, less authentic, than his younger iteration, though. His identity may evolve over time, but no version is more authentic than another. This may seem like a leap, but the Anglo-American philosopher and “agnostic Christian” Alfred North Whitehead, if you can accept that construct, said something like, “Your life matters because you did live it.” I’ve used that phrase at the last two funerals where I spoke. The old man in the story is thinking, even near the end of his life, that everything did matter, because he did live it.
Amoskeag: In developing your main and supporting characters, how do you see them losing or finding themselves?
Abe Aamidor: The old man (the narrator) found a forgotten part of himself in an old box, literally a shoe box, though it would be more correct to say it spurred him to recall a chapter in his life. Perhaps this is too literal of an answer to the question — I think a lot of artists and critics don’t like literal meanings or literal anything. But it’s the identity of the man behind the curtain, as it were, who is the person who sent the old ice skates back to their original owner (the narrator in the story) that remains a mystery to the reader. Maybe it’s the narrator’s long forgotten boyhood friend, Wes Dobbins. Maybe. If so, Wes is a very confident, smiling, wily old man himself.
Amoskeag: What is the one line, the one sentence in your piece that for you sums up the meaning of “identity?”
Abe Aamidor: The narrator is not so self-conscious such that there is a flash, a declaration, that emphasizes his identity or discovery thereof. But there are a few lines that express his personality, that give him individuality. I like the line best where, after listening to his boyfriend friend boast that his Daddy is going to buy him a pair of expensive Riedell ice skates, the narrator declares, “This kid Wes wasn’t going to get Riedell skates.” It reads better in context because Wes’s dad was just an hourly rate employee. But the narrator, who came from a professional family, was a tough cookie himself as well as a very decent, sensitive young man. A young Jimmy Cagney could play either of the boys in a movie version of this story.
Amoskeag: How do you identify yourself as a writer — how did you get here? Who/what made you so? Where have you come from? What have you gone through?
Abe Aamidor: I had it too easy when I was younger. I won a Norman Mailer-sponsored high school writing contest in 1961 or so, when he had his column in Esquire magazine. You can just search my last name and Norman Mailer’s and it comes right up as part of his archives at the University of Texas-Austin. Later, I was the only freshman in my incoming class in college who placed out of Rhetoric, which was English composition. People told me no one ever does that but I did. I went to the University of Chicago and expected to study with Saul Bellow, but as I came to tell people, I not only never studied with Bellow, I never saw him once walk across the quadrangles. I forgot my way and didn’t continue writing.
In time, after serving in VISTA and as a public school teacher in the inner city for a while (both occupations gave me a 2-A military deferment, and I just refuse to join the millions of my age cohorts who now seem to all claim they were “anti-War activists” during the Vietnam War when in fact very, very few people really were), I started writing for The Reader, still a popular alternative press weekly in Chicago, but hardly so alternative anymore. Then I had a twenty-five year career in newspaper journalism, always in features. I still like to boast that there never was a time I was not in features, and I worked in three cities with about ten different editors over the years.
John Gardner, in his book On Becoming a Novelist, had one word of advice for journalists who want to write fiction — don’t. Nevertheless, I completed a short novel set in the days of the 1968 Democratic National Convention riots in Chicago and gave it to two successful authors I knew to review. They both liked it. I know they were sincere because each gave me the names of their agents to contact, but only after reading the ms. Yet each agent declined to look at the manuscript, claiming that books about the Sixties don’t sell. I was very discouraged — writing is just a business after all, I concluded. It was to be almost twenty years before I tried again, but not before I read a lot of short stories in various collections, such as the O. Henry awards and the Best American Short Stories collections. I learned as much from what I didn’t like as from what I did like.
Amoskeag: What lies ahead for you?
Abe Aamidor: I had my first short story published circa 1976 in Midstream magazine, which is still around, but I didn’t start writing short fiction again until I retired from The Indianapolis Star in 2009. I had to finish a non-fiction book I was working on at the time, At the Crossroads: Middle America and the Battle to Save the Car Industry, published by ECW Press of Toronto, then I turned in earnest to fiction. Besides Delivery, which was my first short story published in my new-old career, a story called John Gardner’s Last Ride, a speculative piece about the day Gardner crashed his Harley and died, will appear in The Gettysburg Review in 2013, and another story, My Stupid Life Dot Com, about a Dilbert-like character and his Yugoslavian landlords in Chicago, will appear in Chicago Quarterly Review sometime in 2013.
To view an excerpt from Abe’s short story “Delivery,” click here.