If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
Right now I’d probably say Marilynne Robinson. Of course, if you asked me any other day you’d get any other number of answers: Cormac McCarthy, David Foster Wallace, Michel Faber. But I just read an interview where Marilynne Robinson said something to the effect of, “You have to live with your mind your whole life, so you ought to make it a good place to be,” and I find that such a profound and beautiful and necessary thing. I feel like I would benefit from that.
As far as what I’m cooking, I think I know myself well enough to admit I’d fall back on grilling something, steak tacos maybe, or doing that awful thing where I tried to pass off whatever I’d made as something I “just threw together,” even though I hate that. Religieuse for dessert, maybe, though it would probably take me three tries.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
There’s definitely a fear of finality, and the inevitable disappointing reality that what ends up on the page falls short of what began in your soul. In response to this, I’m a devotee of what Anne Lamotte calls “shitty first drafts,” where I’ll do dozens and dozens of passes over a given piece, which more or less tricks my brain into always believing there will be another opportunity to make it less lame.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
There’s a character I’m working on right now who seems to keep echoing my wife. I keep discovering facets of her in the way this character behaves. She’s a fire, for sure.
What books are on your nightstand?
Right now, The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (no relation) and Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mendel. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road seems to always be there, and The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence isn’t, but ought to be.
Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?
Madeleine L’Engle likened the creative process to a pregnancy, and that rings true for me (at least I imagine, having never been pregnant). I’m not sure the point of genesis for any ideas, but I often feel it as something within that gradually takes on size and shape until it’s ready to take its place in the world.
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
The em dash—it feels clean, and more organically similar to our natural speech and thought patterns.
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
Frankenstein, which I now teach, ironically.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
The author would like to thank the barstool at his kitchen island, whose backlessness prevented him from getting comfortable to the point of sleepiness while writing and editing these pieces.
Why do you write? The first 5 words that come to mind. Go.
Because art shapes our lives.
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
“Make a place to sit down. Sit down.” From “How to be a Poet” by Wendell Berry
Tyler James Russell is the author of TO DROWN A MAN, a collection of poetry available on August 4, 2020.
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