If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
The ghost of Clarice Lispector. Although, whatever I make, she rejects. So, we call out for delivery and she orders something -- apple turnovers -- that aren’t on the menu, and lots of them! The restaurant is terrified, but they comply.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
That the thing will suck, after I’ve written it, and after I’ve revised it. I often combat my fears by drinking a stout or two. In all seriousness, there is no combatting this particular fear -- except to keep on writing. The more chances you give yourself -- to not suck -- the greater your chances are of not sucking.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
I can’t answer this question honestly. The safe answer would be the character Anna Karenina. Is that crazy or what? Maybe Faye Greener from The Day of the Locust. The fiction writer Lucia Berlin, maybe. There is a living writer, (at least I think she’s still alive), who nearly jumped off my old rooftop, but I can’t say what her name is, fml.
What books are on your nightstand?
Margaret Walker’s novel Jubilee. Sandra Simonds’ poetry collection Warsaw Bikini. A good friend sent me some Japanese novels. Carl Sandburg’s folk music collection The American Songbag. Well, that’s not quite true. It’s a PDF, that’s on my computer, which is on my nightstand.
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
The parentheses because they’re very suggestive.
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
There were quite a few. MacBeth was one. I read it later. It’s a blast.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
I couldn’t think of anything and then for some reason my mind said “Potato masher.” Why not? Love the “puree.”
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
That’s a lot of mirrors. I’d probably keep it short, to save time: “You Are Closer Than You Actually Appear.”
Does writing energize or exhaust you?
Writing is exhausting, but revision is energizing.
What are common traps for aspiring writers?
Defensiveness. Especially the one that goes “This really happened.” Just because it may have transpired doesn’t necessarily make it a good piece of writing.
What is your writing Kryptonite?
My colossal weakness for mischief-making.
Have you ever gotten reader’s block?
Do you think someone could be a writer if they don’t feel emotions strongly?
Yes and no. Yes, because they could feel those emotions for, say, a “colder” thing like language, which would actually make language warm, ha ha. But if they felt no emotions at all, that would be pretty tough.
What other authors are you friends with, and how do they help you become a better writer?
I used to know only, like, poets and fiction writers. But in the past couple years, I’ve become friends with people who’ve written scholarship books, and this form of writing turns out to be incredibly difficult and admirable. But to answer the question, let’s take my friend Rod Smith, the nutty experimental poet. The key thing about Rod, though, is that every so often, he gets serious and it’s surprising, and effective. He says “doot doo” and he sneaks up on you, and gets you good.
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?
Each book has to stand on its own. Occasionally, you need to pick it up and fend off some kind of avant garde attack. It’s good to have a sturdy book, in hand.
How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?
A first book is a real treasure, because it’s amazing to have something in your hands, to show friends and family. At the same time, you put yourself out there, and if it’s not perfect, which it isn’t, you’re sort of baring your soul, publicly. So, what happens is, the next books become a quest to master the form of the book, if that’s even possible.
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
My mind said things like Coltrane records and fresh ginger. Wtf? You’d have to say Coltrane records, but ginger is very good, mmmmm.
What authors did you dislike at first but grew into?
Virtually all of them. The thing is, you have to be skeptical, because if you do the opposite, if you just love everything, then you might as well strip off your clothes and run amok in the middle of the big city. Perhaps it was the language poets, though, most of all. I thought that was bullshit at first, but then some of the writing really struck me as being -- precisely the kind of thing -- that enables language to evolve. And that really is the work of poetry.
What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?
Well, it’s mostly about rejection. I mean, the language of rejection is powerful. Debilitating, really, but it’s also powerful to agitate against rejection. Lots of electricity in that dynamic.
What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?
That’s a tough one. Maybe Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan?
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
The fox. I actually have a fox friend. During the pandemic, this happened. She used to wait for me every evening when I’d go out for a run or a walk. She’d just be waiting near the woods, with that big tail curled behind her. Just brilliant stuff. And then we’d jog along together for a little while until she drifted off. Once, I got within a few feet of her and she nibbled my hand, briefly. Magic.
What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?
Absolutely nothing, hahahaha.
How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?
Too many to count. Most writers are like this. You’ve just got to be practical and keep pressing forward, take chunks of this and bits of that, and fashion it all together in the best combinations. “Be ruthless in your practicality.”
What does literary success look like to you?
Too many people associate success with money and in the end that is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. The vast majority of big money books really blow, but I guess the authors are comfortable. The answer is -- a risk-taking book that’s really tight. Very hard to come by.
What’s the best way to market your books?
Readings. Be a performer!
What’s the most difficult thing about writing characters from the opposite sex?
You start to desire them, romantically. It gets kind of frustrating.
What did you edit out of this book?
Mostly, what you guys didn’t like. Hahaha. No, I think we dropped some loose language and vague kind of stuff. I really appreciated the feedback!
If you didn’t write, what would you do for work?
Something that involves robes and lotions. No, in all seriousness, I’d probably be a professional potato masher.
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