Posts Tagged ‘Interview’

Oh, people are always whining about being labeled a Southern writer or a sci-fi writer or a writer of women’s fiction. We love to categorize, and one of the categories I’m associated with is the “Neo-Masculinist” movement. I’m not sure what that means—though if people want to read me that way, fine. I’m not intentionally trying to explore maleness, and I know anything I say on the subject is going to come across as bullshitty intellectualism. I’m just trying to write good stories, and the place those stories come happens to be hairy and sweaty and snarled with barbed wire. When you get down to it, I’d rather move peoples’ hearts than their heads.

To read the interview in its entirety, click here.

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Live Nude Books: The stories in If You Lived Here You’d Already Be Home often begin with humorous, quirky premises that help undercut their more serious, weighty themes and subject matter.  I’m wondering if you could you talk a little about your approach to writing short fiction.

What triggers the creation of your stories: premise or theme?

John Jodzio: For creation, it’s almost always premise.  After I find one that’s entertaining to me, I’m usually able to sort of determine what the main themes of the story are/might be and then begin to explore those within whatever world I’ve thought up.

LNB: Because such strange occurrences happen on the surfaces of these stories, they’re really fun to read.  Which story did you enjoy writing the most?

JJ: Probably “Flight Path.”  That story started when I took some of my more interesting characters in my non-working stories hostage and smashed them together into one confined space.  It took me a couple of years to figure everything out, but I really like what ended up occurring.

LNB: This collection contains a mix of short stories and flash fiction pieces.  Is form an element of craft you enjoy experimenting with?

JJ: I think I’m ultimately a traditionalist.  Even within those flash pieces, I think I am writing them as short stories — pretty structured with a beginning/middle/end.  Lately I’ve really been re-reading a lot of Barthelme and so things may get more experimental form-wise.

LNB: What’s the best advice on writing you’ve ever received?

JJ: Persevere.

LNB: What are you working on next?

JJ: I’m kicking around some pages for something that I’m hoping will become a novel.  It’s going to be set in Florida and there will be a lot of snakes and some old people (mostly astronauts).  That’s all I can say at this point, not because I don’t want to give anything away, just because I really don’t know any more than that right now.

LNB: What have you recently read that you’re recommending to friends and other readers?

JJ: I really loved Daddy’s by Lindsey Hunter and Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin.  Also, if you haven’t picked up House of Tomorrow by Peter Bognanni, now is the time.

Brad Watson’s story,”Vacuum,” appears in Granta 109.  The literary magazine interviewed Watson about the story and his craft choices.  Here’s a snipet of that conversation:

GRANTACan you explain why you chose to leave all the family members in the story unnamed? What did this provide you with as the writer, and/or what do you think it provides us with as readers? For all the anonymity this tactic might produce, the story feels almost wincingly intimate.

WATSON: I’m not sure. I wrote the first paragraph, with that image of the vacuuming and the anger, quickly, in longhand in my notebook. After a long time of wanting to write a story from that image, this paragraph suddenly came out. It may have seemed right to say ‘the mother’ and ‘the boys’ because that was so strongly the picture I had in mind: in black-and-white, initially from a diffuse or omniscient perspective. It’s possible that I instinctively entered the story with a somewhat archetypal sense of its sources. Given that the impulse seems to have been largely emotional, this possibly makes sense. It seemed natural, also, to give names to the supporting characters, as if (as you suggest) naming them removes them some elemental distance from the central emotional content or development in the story.

To read the entire interview, click here.

Photo by Julie Bullock

Live Nude Books: I was wondering if you could talk about your approach to compiling the stories in The Name of the Nearest River.  Did you write individual stories with the intention that they’d be parts of a collection?

Alex Taylor: Well, no, I never set out, envisioning any kind of linked collection.  I guess if there’s any kind of link between the stories it would be one of place and perhaps attitude of the characters, but I never really had bought into the notion that a collection of short stories has to be linked.  I know publishers want that these days ’cause it makes it easier to sell, if it has the appearance of a novel that’s broken up into parts.  But I was just writing stories; I just like the buffet feel of a collection, rather than any kind of unified whole. But, hey, maybe it has one; I’m not exactly sure about that.

LNB: You talked about the attitude of your characters.  Do their attitudes spring from circumstance?  Which comes first in your writing process, character or plot?

AT: Most often, a lot of my stories seem to stem from an anecdote that I’ve heard about.  Then it’s me, imagining what kind of—reimagining that anecdote into a more fully formed situation.  And then the character seems to arise out of that.  That seems to be what happens more often than not.

LNB: How does place inform your writing?

AT: Well, seems like—not just in the world of fiction or nonfiction or literature in general, but from everything to politics, economics, religion—anything you really want to think about; in America, we’ve become a culture of suburbanites, whereas the rural folks, they get ignored to the point where people don’t even really believe we exist.  (laughs) That’s what it seems like to me—I don’t want to come off, sounding like I got a chip on my shoulder.  (laughs)  But if you set a story in a place where you can still see the stars at night, it’s a strange thing for a lot of contemporary readers.  Sometimes they fetishize it, I reckon.  By the very nature of setting a story in a place that has a scant population and a lot of agriculture, I think you’re creating or tapping into a world that a lot of contemporary Americans don’t see on a regular basis.

That’s one way, I think, place can inform the story; it’s something that most people don’t think about.  But in regards to actually how does place function into moving the narrative along: when I’m thinking about a story and where it’s set, the landscape contributes to an overall thematic and philosophical ethos.  At the outset, I was only subconsciously aware I was trying to convey that.  Being from Kentucky, the ethos is largely one of loss and regret and often times anger.  But the landscape of Kentucky can often look angry, especially in the areas that have been strip-mined.

LNB: The language in your stories is very lyrical and the descriptions are fresh, yet these elements don’t slow the momentum of the narratives.  How important is language in your work, and do you worry about it overshadowing the story?

AT: I used to have a real problem with that, and maybe I still do to some extent.  I just wanted to write one metaphor and one simile after another.  Barry Hannah, my teacher at Ole Miss, he told me I was being “Piss Elegant.” (laughs)  He tried to cure me of that, and hopefully he did, at least to some extent.  I love language, I love writers that are thick in their usage of language; I prefer Faulkner to Hemingway.  It is a problem that you have to deal with, though, if you like poetry and you don’t want it to subvert the narrative.  So, I try to strike some kind of balance.

LNB: What are you working on next?

AT: Well, I’ve got this hideous novel that’s sitting in the corner here like a rabid dog.  But I’ve been working on it for about four years now, so it’s finished—well, the fourth draft is finished.  It’s not exactly finished finished, I guess.  It’s about a family that runs a ferryboat in western Kentucky.

LNB: What have you recently read that you’re recommending?

AT: I just read this collection of novellas—by this writer, I’m not exactly sure how you pronounce his name: Josh Weil—called The New Valley.  Really, really intense stories about Virginia cattle farmers.  One story, the last story, is an epistolary story, but the person writing the letters is a semi-retarded person.  It’s pretty interesting, in that respect, with that narrative voice.  Also just reread the book of Judges in the bible.  It’s always great fun, the Old Testament.

Live Nude Books: In What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us, themes, subjects, and images reoccur form story to story.  I was wondering if you could talk about your approach to writing and shaping this collection.  Were you considering the book as a whole when composing the individual stories?

Laura van den Berg: In the beginning, I didn’t work with a particular overarching design in mind. I was just writing stories. After I had maybe four or five, I could see the same central preoccupations recurring and since I had more ideas for stories with similar themes, I began to imagine a book taking shape. But I think in the beginning it was really important to not have a strategy in mind and to just write the things that kept lingering in my imagination; considerations about the overall architecture came later.

LNB: What was your strategy for ordering the stories in this book?

LvdB: My agent and I worked on the ordering together, and we decided to put “Where We Must Be” first because the opening scene is kind of quirky and—hopefully—a little funny, the kind of thing we hoped might grab a reader’s attention. We put the title story at the end because it was the longest story and we felt it would make for a solid “anchor.” As for the others, we tried to arrange them in a way that would prevent too much repetition—staggering the two third-person stories, for example.

LNB: Your stories are either set in or reference locations all over the world.  How important is place in your work?

LvdB: Place is extremely important to me—not so much a place in its literal incarnation, but my own fictional approximation of that place and the meaning the landscape might hold for the characters. The physical world is always applying all kinds of pressure to us and I think those elements can be useful for drawing out a character’s inner landscape in fiction.

LNB: Is there any piece of advice—a writing mantra, of sorts—that you find yourself passing along to students and young writers?

LvdB: Woody Allen once said “seventy percent of success in life is showing up,” and I think that’s so true when it comes to writing—showing up at your desk, showing up for opportunities to get one’s work out there. The outcome is almost always uncertain, but we have to keep showing up.

LNB: What are you working on for your next project?

LvdB: I’m currently at work on a novel and new stories.

LNB: Have you read any recently published books that you’re recommending?  If so, what are some of the titles; who are the authors?

LvdB: Benjamin Percy has a novel, The Wilding, coming out in September and I can’t wait for it. Josh Weil’s fabulous novella collection, The New Valley, is just out in paperback, as is Jessica Anthony’s incredible novel, The Convalescent. Aryn Kyle’s new book, Boys and Girls Like You And Me, is to die for. Matthew Salesses’ Our Island of Epidemics. Pinckney Benedict’s Miracle Boy and Other Stories. Allison Amend’s Stations West. Dawn Raffel’s Further Adventures in the Restless Universe. Tiphanie Yanique’s How To Escape From A Leper Colony. Connie May Fowler’s How Clarissa Burden Learned To Fly. Shane Jones’ Light Boxes, which was just re-issued by Penguin. I could go on and on, which is a great feeling, knowing there’s so much amazing work out there.

Scott Blackwood discusses the setting of We Agreed to Meet Just Here, prior to its publication, with the Austinist.

I set it there for several reasons: at the turn of the century and into the 1920’s, Deep Eddy was a wilderness that brushed up against the city. People camped and hunted there (and had for thousands of years—the Tonkawa were mainstays along the river). There was a huge boulder that stuck out of the river, off the shore where the Deep Eddy Pool is now, and people flocked there to dive off and swim in the current. But the current (the deep eddy) was dangerous, too, and drowned a number of people. They later dynamited the boulder but the area kept the name.

Click here to read the entire interview.

Earlier today I got the opportunity to chat with Brady Udall about his writing process and his new novel, The Lonely Polygamist.  Here’s what we talked about:

Live Nude Books: What came first, the novel’s title or the premise?

Brady Udall: They’re kind of entwined.  In 1998, I wrote an article for Esquire magazine about modern polygamy.  The original title of that article was “Big Love,” and without even asking me, the editor at Esquire changed the title to “The Lonely Polygamist.”  That’s what it came out as, and I knew when I wrote the article and did the research that one day I’d write the novel.  And even though I was a little miffed that the name of the article title was changed, I decided it was a much better name than “Big Love,” so that’s what it became.

LNB: So did you begin working on the novel in ’98?

BU: No, I’d been working on—Edgar Mint came out in 2001—so I just had the idea in the back of my head and had done a good bit of research already that after I finished Edgar Mint, the next novel I’d probably write would be about polygamy.  That’s pretty much all I knew.

LNB: When you spend so much time living with these characters, how does it feel to finish the story and essentially let go of them?

BU: Oh, it felt great.  I was tired of them.  I had been working on the story for so long—you do get to know them really well, and you become fond of them in certain ways, but like you do with those who are loved ones, you get annoyed by them, by the choices they make and their little bad habits.  So I was happy to send them off.

LNB: There’s a large cast of characters in this novel, many of whom have elaborate backstories, yet the details provided don’t seem overwhelming.  As a writer, how difficult is it to restrain yourself from including too much information?

BU: It was, in my case, too hard to resist.  At its worst, the book was 1,400 pages long, and I say worst because that was the longest it got.  So I had backstories that went on for hundreds of pages, actually, about various characters.  As writers we just have to write that stuff out to understand the characters and once we figure it all out, we can cut it.  That’s what happened with this book.

LNB: Several details in this book at first seem quirky and provide humor for the story, but later they turn out to have emotional significance; they work as symbols.  Do you start off with an image or detail and work toward symbolism, or does the story dictate what detail you’ll use to symbolize an idea?

BU: I don’t start out with symbols.  Basically what I do when a certain detail or an object keeps returning in the story, I start thinking: Ok, now.  This is important, for some reason. I have any number of those kinds of details and objects in the book, but you don’t notice them because they—most of them sort of drop away and never return.  But there’s a few that keep returning, and once that happens two or three times, I realize: Ok, there’s something important here. And it happens, I guess, organically would be the right word.

LNB: So many of the chapters—even sections within the chapters—feel self-contained, like they could stand alone as short stories.  Do you approach writing individual chapters this way?

BU: No, at some point when I was going to school, I heard somebody say the best novels have chapters that are like short stories.  And that’s a nice ideal, but in practice I think that rarely happens.  What I do think each chapter should have—even though it’s connected to everything around it—it should have an arc of its own.  At some point it can’t stand alone.  At some point, it is connected to everything else, and it draws on what came before it and moves toward something else.

LNB: Do you still write short stories?

BU: No, I haven’t written a short story in…jeez…six years, maybe?  Seven years?  I think it’s because when I start writing novels I kind of hoard everything into it; every good idea somehow becomes attached to the novel.  So, right now I’m not writing short stories.

LNB: What’s on tap for your next project?

BU: The next project that I’ve sworn to myself, now, is that it’s going to be short, that’s the main thing.  It’s not going to be 1,400 pages.  So the main thing is really, seriously to have a simple, straightforward story.  I don’t know yet, but I think it might be a young adult novel.

LNB: What are you currently reading or have recently read that you’re recommending?

BU: There is a book I keep on recommending to everybody—especially after the death of Barry Hannah about a month ago, I started re-reading all of his books.  My favorite of his books is Ray.  It’s just a great book, and it’s crazy, weird, strange—the kind of book that wouldn’t get published today, I don’t think.  It’s such a beautiful, funny book.  I’ll evangelize for it the rest of my life.  To me, he’s just the most amazing prose stylist that America has ever produced, and I just can’t believe he’s not better known than he is.

To read more on why he chose to write about polygamy, check out Udall’s essay at The Huffington Post.