Fight Night is Emeritus Professor of English Robert Flanagan’s newest collection of short stories, released recently by XOXOX Press. A prolific writer, Flanagan usually is working on three or four projects at a time. “I keep notes on scraps of paper everywhere. You never know where an idea will come from,” he says, smiling as he pulls a folded-up nametag from his pocket. “I had to write this down. I was home this morning and got one of those robocalls. The recording was so indistinct that the woman’s voice either said, ‘Vote for America’ or ‘Pope of Westerville.’ I thought that was kind of interesting so I wrote it down. It will go into an envelope with dozens of other scraps of writing and in a few months, I’ll look at all of them, push them around a little to see if anything comes together and gives me the idea for a story. I find I can’t force my will on things. Those pieces of paper have to gravitate toward one another on their own—and sometimes they do.”
Flanagan says he’s a writer by vocation, not by trade. “It’s my calling and a form of meditation. I can’t sit and say ‘ohm’, but I can write. If I had to go to jail, I’d ask only for a typewriter and a bunch of second sheets. And if they told me I’d never be allowed to publish, that would be okay because it’s about the writing, not necessarily the publishing. I write all the time. My wife sometimes says, ‘You’re not listening. You’re writing in your head.’ And she’s right.”
Flanagan’s work belies his statement that he doesn’t “really have a career.” He’s currently shopping his novel, Champions, and his next project is a trio of short novels about “boxing, cops, and mobsters.”
Obviously, titles such as Champions and Fight Night give away Flanagan’s passion for boxing and boxers. Growing up in a rough neighborhood in Toledo with a dad who had boxed, Flanagan learned to love the sport, but didn’t get into it until later. “I was a pudgy little four-eyed kid until I hit puberty. Then look out because I had scores to settle.” During his boxing life, he suffered two detached retinas and a variety of less-serious injuries, but that didn’t dampen his enthusiasm for the sport. Even today, “though I don’t hit the heavy bag anymore, I can still work out on the light bag,” he says. “Hitting in rhythm to Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B. Goode,’ you can really get into a zone.” And every year he can, he travels to the induction ceremony at the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota, NY, where his writings about boxing are archived.
In Flanagan’s new collection, readers will find boxing tales, of course, but also stories about loneliness, lying, war games, and performers playing Sojourner Truth and John L. Sullivan at a Chautauqua. The breadth of the stories is a mirror of Flanagan’s breadth as a writer of poetry, novels, short stories, plays, screenplays, and even songs.
Flanagan has conducted a series of readings from the new book in the Delaware area and soon will be heading for more in Toledo and at Kenyon. Those who attend will be in for a treat. As one of reviewers says, “Whether he’s writing about the boxing ring or the Marine Corps or small-town Ohio life, Flanagan’s fiction uniformly reflects the accumulated wisdom of a man who has been there and done that.” Another says, “Flanagan’s brutally honest prose floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee sent straight to the heart.”