If you could cook dinner for any author, dead or alive, who would it be? What would you make?
I’d have to say Edgar Allen Poe, because he had so much tragedy and sadness in his life, and I think I’d like to provide him with a moment of warmth and kindness. No better way of doing that than with good food. I’d probably cook him some nice Hungarian goulash, if only because it’s delicious and hearty and he likely wouldn’t have had it before.
What scares you the most about the writing process? How do you combat your fears?
The inner critic is merciless. Makes you wonder if everything you’re doing is crap. I keep thinking about that scene in Funny Farm (starring Chevy Chase) in which his character hands a copy of his novel manuscript to his wife to read, and she reads it and then starts crying. My wife is my first and best editor, and so that reaction is something I dread, almost irrationally. Plus, some of my ideas are a bit out there and are largely execution-dependent. I get past it by recognizing that I have to be true to my own imagination and aesthetic, and just doing it--if I blow it, I either start over or fix it.
Who is your biggest literary crush, author or character?
This is probably a somewhat obscure reference, but the most recent crush I had on a character was Mrs. Singh, Ray Singh’s mother in The Lovely Bones. She’s a peripheral character, not really that important to the plot, but she’s a beautiful, elegant character who carries herself with incredible grace even as her life is falling apart.
What books are on your nightstand?
Too many—one at a time would be better, but I like to sample and flit. David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, Karen Russell’s story collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove, the reissued Miracleman series by Alan Moore (a revisionist super-hero series wherein the titular character ends up setting up a theocracy with himself as God), and Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda’s collected edition of Monstress (a fantasy comic that is very dark and strange and features talking cats). This will probably tell you a lot about me.
Where do you get your ideas? What inspires you?
I get ideas from so many places—sometimes it’s things my wife tells me about her work day, or my interactions with students and/or other faculty. My son, who is what you’d call high-functioning on the autism spectrum but who will probably have close to a normal life, has given me tons of material to work with—“The Sound Of His Voice” was directly inspired by some of the early intervention we did with him, and my current novel project is largely inspired by him and the life I want/foresee for him, but transformed into subte science-fictiony terms . And sometimes it’s a combination of a great many things—“Minutes Of The Pine Valley Residents’ Board” came about at a time when I was a committee secretary (a pretty typical service activity for new professors) and was also very actively annoyed by my neighbors’ children (seriously, I was thinking of setting up glue traps for them on my back porch). Really, they can come from anywhere.
Favorite punctuation mark? Why?
I try to avoid too much fancy punctuation simply because it feels too much like diagramming sentencings to me. So while I do like the semicolon and the em dash, I’d have to say the period, because there’s nothing like a simple, short, declarative sentence that falls like a hammer blow. Case in point, from Faulkner’s “A Rose For Emily”:
“The man himself lay on the bed.”
It’s creepy, and there’s a finality to it because it confirms what we were already led to believe.
What book were you supposed to read in high school, but never did?
The Grapes Of Wrath. Sorry, Mrs. Thome. I did read it as an adult…and still didn’t care for it.
What inanimate object would you thank in your acknowledgements?
My height-adjustable swivel chair. Not only am I tall and so need the increased height, but sometimes when I get stuck on a particular passage I spin around in it like a small child. Helps clear the noggin.
Why do you write? The first 5 words that come to mind. Go.
To exorcise my bountiful demons.
If you could write an inspirational quote on the mirrors of aspiring writers, what would you write?
Two words: “Commit Yourself.”
This is what sets publishing writers apart from those who merely call themselves writers and have umpteen unfinished manuscripts in their desk drawers or flash drives. You really do have to commit to a project fully and wholeheartedly, even when enthusiasm for it wanes (it will), even when you think what you’re writing is absolute shit (some of it is), when it seems too daunting (it often is). You have to power through and finish a draft first, even a shitty one, then go back and make it less shitty, then hit it again and actually make it good. Each draft teaches you how to write the next one—you have to let it.
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