There's this restaurant off U.S. 123 in Easley, Dozo, run by Hmong brothers, the kind of place where the portrayal of the Hmong in Clint Eastwood's "Gran Torino" might be challenged.
Nevermind, don't bring it up.
You can find the fiction writer George Singleton at Dozo several nights a week eating sushi and other dishes that might make the palate-challenged squirm. Singleton, who will give a reading at 701 Center for Contemporary Arts today, recently finished a 2,500-word essay on food for Oxford American. Dozo and its fare are fairly and accurately, we assume, portrayed in the piece.
"I had to leave a lot of crap out because it would get a lot of people in trouble," Singleton said.
Guggenheim Fellows can write just about anything they want.
"I don't even realize how big that is," Singleton said about the fellowship he was awarded for midcareer artistic achievement. "People out in the country, when I say I'm not working because I'm a Guggenheim Fellow, they say, 'Are you kidding?'"
The last sentence was punctuated by an expletive, as is much of Singleton's language - on the phone, in person and on the pages of his books. The author of four collections of short stories and two novels, Singleton has been published in The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's and Georgia Review. His conflicted characters use foul language, and tact usually isn't one of their quality traits. They say what they feel when they feel like saying it.
So does Singleton.
"Most of the time, it's a little bit autobiographical," Singleton said of the people and personalities he creates.
During a recent interview, Singleton, a writer based in Dacusville, a town about 15 miles outside of Greenville, shared an example of a story he began writing last week. When he was a young boy, his family moved to the state from California. A family friend who kind of looked like Singleton's father came to visit for about a month, as Singleton fragmentally recalls. The story takes off from there.
"How I'm going to write it is there's a guy whose father had an illegitimate son and he cusses a lot," Singleton said.
There's also going to be a conflict and awkward situations, character challenges Singleton beautifully creates. He doesn't overthink - or overwrite - what's happening.
Singleton is a Southerner, but don't call him a Southern writer. Don't call him sir, either, even if you've been enamored with his prose since college, back when you dreamt of writing fiction while wearing cowboy boots and denim on denim.
Singleton earned his MFA at UNC-Greensboro, and he has taught fiction and writing at several universities, including Francis Marion University near Florence. He teaches fiction writing at the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities.
He used to hang out at bars such as Goatfeathers in Five Points.
"Who is the mayor of Columbia?" he asked. Of course, it's Bob Coble, who isn't seeking a sixth term in office.
"God, he's been the mayor for 20 years," Singleton said. "How old is he? I thought it was a corpse out there."
Singleton had more favorable comments about Knox White, Greenville's mayor.
"He's done some good things," Singleton said, referring to the vibrant atmosphere on Main Street in Greenville. "I hate to admit it, because I'm a yellow-dog Democrat. And he's a Republican. But downtown Greenville is cool."
But there's conflict within that cool vibe. You see, Singleton isn't supposed to be drinking at the bars that have cropped up alongside boutiques and restaurants.
"All these bars show up when I'm supposed to be quitting drinking," he said, noting the juxtaposition of the bars and the Bob Jones pamphlets handed out on the street. "For a short-story writer, it's perfect.
"I'll fall off the wagon in seconds. When I go off on the road, I'm so nervous. I hate meeting people. I don't hate, but I get nervous."
Then there's the cigarette smoking, a crutch for many writers. Singleton's got his habit down from three packs a day to about 20 cigarettes. It's hard to not smoke when you start your day at 4:30 a.m.
He lets the dogs out, makes coffee and then writes until 8 a.m. Then he plays Spider-cell solitaire. At about noon, he's done - unless there's a recommendation letter to write. He's got 13 requests on his desk.
About three evenings a week you can find him at Dozo.
For the reading at 701, which is part of the Working Poems & Stories Series, Singleton will read mostly soon-to-be published material.
A highlight will be pages from "I Would Be Remiss," a novella that is 100 pages of acknowledgments. That's right, a book about what's in the backs of books.
"It's been the most fun I've ever had writing," he said. "I'll read a couple of new things and one old thing."
That's like your favorite band playing only new songs.
"And sometimes when bands do that, it (stinks)," Singleton said.
Of course, he didn't say stinks.
IF YOU GO
WHEN: 2 today
WHERE: 701 Center for Contemporary Art, 701 Whaley St.
TICKETS: $5 and $7
INFORMATION: (803) 779-4571 or www.701cca.org