Grab a copy of Timmy Waldron’s debut book World Takes, and one of the first things you notice is that the back cover appears to be upside down.
It’s no mistake. “A lot of my characters have their worlds turned upside down and you get to see how they live in it and deal with it,” says Waldron, a lifelong resident of Ewing.
Waldron has a dark sense of humor, which reveals itself throughout World Takes, a collection of thirteen short stories published in May. “It’s a bit masochistic, but the dark and uncomfortable is my favorite kind of humor,” says Waldron, 32. “You really get to wonder about how people act when they’re not on their best behavior. No matter what position someone is in or how bad their life has gotten, there’s still a humanity to them, and when you crack it with that humor, it’s so much more satisfying. People are funnier when they’re really at their worst.”
The title of the collection is borrowed from the iconic bridge sign: “Trenton Makes, the World Takes.” Waldron says the title gives the book “a New Jersey identity, even though the stories take place all over the country.” He adds, “Trenton had the right kind of identity for the book”— which is packed with down-and-out characters and absurd situations that “are just beneath what you can politely talk about.”
Waldron didn’t always have such an easy way with words. He had dyslexia as a kid. As part of his educational therapy, he had to continuously work with short stories to build reading comprehension. “I became so interested, because I was working so hard at being able to write and read,” he says.
He later studied English and creative writing at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, and several of his original stories were published online.
In 2003, Jackie Corley, founder of the New Jersey-based online literary journal and print publisher Word Riot Press, took notice. “He’s such a fantastic story teller,” says Corley, a writer from Freehold. “Timmy eschews pretensions and dives straight into the heart of his material. He carries a story with such ease that a reader is immediately immersed in Timmy’s world. As I read his work online, I saw he brought this very funny and human and vulnerable voice to each of his stories.”
Waldron and Word Riot (where he now serves as fiction editor), got to work on a collection—a process Waldron compares to building an album. “I was constantly thinking about Bruce Springsteen’s live set lists and using them as models,” he explains.
So would standout stories like “City Limits” and “Sinjin’s Crossing” be Waldron’s hit singles? He shrugs, “Maybe, but I’ve always had a great affinity for the b-side as well.”
The whole collection has received some stellar reviews. “I didn’t know what to expect,” Waldron says. “Everyone has their right to comment as they see fit and nobody has to like it. So to see people enjoy it and actually go out of their way to write nice things about it, I’m beyond amazed.”
He was even recognized by a resolution from the New Jersey State Assembly after Reed Gusciora, an Assemblyman from Princeton, read and enjoyed the book. “The picture of the ‘Trenton Makes’ bridge overtly beckons the locals,” Waldron says. “It was basically a local boy makes good kind of thing.”
Waldron has been promoting the book outside the Garden State—with readings in Manhattan, Providence, California, and even London—but he says the Jersey connection helps him stand out. “At these readings, Word Riot and I, we’re like the ‘Jersey people.’ I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘I thought I recognized that Jersey dry wit.’”
He enjoys the writer-audience interaction so much that Waldron is busy organizing a Word Riot reading series to gear up for the May 2010 release of What’s Your Exit? A Literary Detour Through New Jersey. The compilation features Waldron’s “Sinjins Crossing,” along with works by more than 40 Jersey writers, including Joyce Carol Oates, Tom Perrotta, and Robert Pinsky. The series kicks off in October, and is sponsored by the Flying Fish Brewery in Cherry Hill (which will release the next beer in its own exit series).
“For me, Timmy’s work is quintessential Jersey,” says Corley. “He captures the dark humor and the all-too-familiar odd-ball characters that populate the Garden State.”
Is Waldron just a little Jersey-obsessed? “I guess there was a time I couldn’t wait to get out of it, but as soon as I left I couldn’t wait to get back to it,” he says. “It’s the people as much as the place that endears the state to me. Good peoples, as you’d say in Trenton.”
Unlike the troubled characters he creates, Waldron’s future appears to be right side up. “I don’t think I could ever really stop writing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean people have to keep publishing it,” says Waldron, who just finished the first draft of a novel tentatively called Ewingville. “Hopefully I’ll continue to be as lucky as I am now.”
World Takes is available from wordriot.org/press.Click here to leave a comment