Scott Snyder isn’t the first guy to sense misery beneath the surface at Disney World. But he may be the first to spin his experience—obtained during a summer spent working at the theme park—into a short-story collection. If the title piece, in which a young man’s obsession with the women’s prison next door poisons his relationship, had a soundtrack, it would be carnival music that slows into a warped dirge. So far, Stephen King has compared the 30-year-old Columbia teacher to T.C. Boyle, and Francine Prose has likened him to a magician. High on that auspicious start, Snyder is already at work on a novel. He kindly took a quick break to answer a few questions.

DETAILS: After graduating from Brown, you went to work as a janitor at Disney World. Your parents must’ve been so proud.

SNYDER: All of my friends were getting these high-paying jobs in New York. This was a sort of F-you to expectations. Plus, I just thought it would be funny.

DETAILS: Did it inform your writing at all?

SNYDER: The stories walk the line between fantasy and realism—that’s the way I felt about Disney World. It’s supposed to be fun and escapist, but there’s actually a lot of heartbreaking stuff that goes on behind the scenes. DETAILS: Is there a common thread in the stories?

SNYDER: They’re all about ordinary people that have been knocked off course in life. You might think, “Where the hell is this going?” when you start to read one of the stories, but in the end, the characters always come face to face with what they either want or fear most.

DETAILS: You’re a professor at Columbia now. What would your students tell us about you?

SNYDER: That I’m a huge Elvis fan. They saw my tattoos once—I have young Elvis on one arm, old on the other—and I caught a lot of flack. I know it’s over the top, but it’s a bit of a religion.