If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make? Thomas Wolfe—often confused with Tom Wolfe. I used to work at the Wolfe Memorial in Asheville. Admittedly, I’ve read more biographies on Wolfe than I have his fiction. He had a voracious appetite. I would love to cook him three New York strips, ten pounds of potatoes and a basket of cornbread and just watch him go to work.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?Not writing causes a lot of anxiety. I combat it by writing.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character? Lady Brett Ashley
What books are on your nightstand? Currently, Jeni McFarland’s The House of Deep Water, A. Scott Berg’s Wilson, Kevin Young’s Dear Darkness, Frances Justine Post’s Beast and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land
Favorite punctuation mark? Why? The semicolon is my favorite punctuation mark; Michael Parker’s essay “Catch and Release: What We Can Learn From the Semicolon (Even If We Choose Never to Use it In a Sentence),” changed everything for me.
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did? I played by the rules.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements? All the coffee mugs that joined me during my writing sessions.
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write? As long as you’re writing, you’re doing it right.
Does writing energize or exhaust you?Energize
What are common traps for aspiring writers?Everyone’s unique in their delusions.
What is your writing Kryptonite?When my 2-year-old daughter refuses to sleep. And the NBA playoffs.
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?Absolutely; but emotions help.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?Most of my writer buddies come from my time in grad school at the University of Houston, but I’ve also kept in touch with a few writers I met at summer workshops. Zach Powers, Aja Gabel and JP Gritton are a few friends that recently celebrated their debut novels. I’ve also got plenty of folks who are working toward publication. All the writers I’m friends with know how to sit down and write. That’s admirable.
Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?Stand alone.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?It confirmed that I have no idea where commas go.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?In the 11th grade I read The Great Gatsby. I hated The Great Gatsby. And so by extension I hated Fitzgerald. Then as an English major at the University of Florida I had to revisit the novel a few times for a few different classes. And it came up again in graduate school and now I pretty much read the novel every few years because if I don’t I start to miss it.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?My love for language began with music. When I was around ten or eleven, I started writing down the lyrics of my favorite songs and taping them to my bedroom door. And soon thereafter I started writing new lyrics to the songs’ music. This would have been in the mid-90s. So the bands I was listening to were The Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana, Rancid, Green Day and Bush.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?John Williams’ Stoner is pretty damn great.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?My 16-year-old dog, Patapouf. He’s some kind of spitz-mix that my wife rescued from the pound.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?Every character I create probably has traits from at least three or four different people I know or have met. I’m not sure what I owe them. Maybe a beer?
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?Three. In my freshman year of college I wrote a knock-off version of Catch-22. After college I wrote this strange book that was kind of like The Sopranos meets Catch-22. By graduate school I let go of Catch-22 as an influence and wrote a novel that I may have workshopped to death. I think I wrote about 20 drafts of that thing. By the end, I could hardly recognize it.
What does literary success look like to you?Being able to continue to write and publish novels.
What’s the best way to market your books?This is my first novel, so I’m still trying to figure that out. In college I played in a band and we learned early on if you didn’t promote your shows you’d play to empty rooms...or to your one buddy and die-hard fan Chase. (Thank you Chase for coming to all our shows!) Most people are busy, so reading an unknown author might not be on the top of their wish list. Meaning, as awkward and strange as it is you’ve got to find as many ways to get your book out there. For me that’s been through writing essays, working on a book trailer and doing some visual art projects that I plan to release before the book comes out. Hell, I might even kick it old school and hand out flyers like we did before shows. Otherwise you’re just playing to an empty room. And God does that suck.
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?I don’t know. I’ve always had a lot of female friends and I’ve always read female authors. That’s not to say I understand what it’s like to live in this world as a woman. I kind of just think of all of my characters as lonely, complicated people trying to connect wherever and however they can. It also helps to share your work with members of the opposite sex. They’ll let you know if something you wrote is way off.
What did you edit out of this book?”About 25,000 words. There was a subplot about a mailman at one point. The Lenny character had a much more prominent role in earlier drafts. I explored the Burnett family in greater detail in a previous round. Oh, and I let Uncle Al and Bethany ramble for far too long in past versions.
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?I’d like to be next Ken Burns, though I suppose that too involves writing. Oh well!
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