Writers on the Fly: Brian Evenson



there was a day she noticed a discrepancy between sound and image on the television and found no matter how she messed with the tracking she could not make it go away her husband couldn't see any problem it's fine he kept saying or at least it had been fine he claimed before she started screwing with it he made her surrender the remote the rest of the movie she spent watching the actor's lips move the sound following only afterward at a remove but her husband didn't see it didn't notice it only she did I am Brian Evanson I come from Providence Rhode Island where I teach at Brown University I'm here in Iowa City for the Mission Creek literary festival I often get asked the question of how I come up with my ideas that that seems to come up a lot for some reason and and I'm one of those writers who's lucky enough to have more ideas than I could ever possibly write about so I have an embarrassment of riches in that regard I think they asked it because my work is is often kind of weird and eccentric and you know they see things in it that they feel is that they would have a difficult time imagining and so I think they're really just trying to figure out how messed up I am I I tend to I'm also one of those people who tend to be able to write almost anywhere I written you know in hotel rooms I've written one once in the the bathroom on a plane you know just just almost anywhere will work for me and the thing I found is that different places end up kind of influencing the writing and interesting ways I don't like to write in a coffee shop because it's just there's there's too much kind of going around on around me in terms of movement and things but but other than that almost anywhere even at home I write in different different places all the time I think when I was I have three kids two of who are in their 20s and that the youngest is one year old and so when my my my first two kids were were really young I would always write from 12:00 to 2:00 in the morning and it was because I knew I could have that time it was a time when my wife was asleep and my kids were asleep and I could kind of count on it and then as time has gone on I've just I've just decided to make use of time whenever I think also as I get older I'm less likely to be able to stay up to be coherent at 2:00 in the morning so so yeah I mean I really really try to just make the most use of opportunities when they come along in terms of writing the one thing I've always tried to do is if I have 15 minutes or a half hour to write I just I really try to use it for that it's so easy to kind of get distracted and you know clearing your throat and warming up and and you know looking on the internet for something and before you know it you're watching all sorts of things on YouTube and so I just I really try to make the maximum use of whatever time I'm given I began as a short story writer and it's a form that I really love and admire and and I really think of myself I write novels and have been successful with that but really still think of myself as primarily a short story writer and my favorite form is kind of the long short story or the novella because I think it it allows you a little bit more breadth in scope in terms of what you can do and and has a lot of the it has the concision and brevity of a short story in some regards but also has more of the scope of a novel so it has for me the best of both worlds I think it does in some some ways I like teaching I really enjoy teaching and I use my creative writing classes as an excuse to to read and reread books that I really want to read and it gives me a chance to talk very specifically about the crafts of book books that I admire and then you know being around student writing all the time is is is interesting I mean partly because some of sometimes it's very interesting very good and other times it's not and I think that you can I sometimes find myself responding to their work and thinking no well this potentially could have gone this other direction and those sorts of things can end up being the jerem for another idea and later on I love to read and I mean it doesn't sound like that's a good way to recharge your batteries for a writer but I actually do find that you know that at anytime I'm kind of stuck or anytime the writings not going well or I'm exhausted that that reading is a great way to do it and then the other thing I do is I walk a lot I walk every every day and try to get out and just just kind of being out and wandering is I think really a nice way of kind of um letting your mind rest a little bit and opening you up to other things you know there's certain things that I do go back to I mean I and and you know it's it's the kind of thing that you don't messes I don't necessarily notice that I notice it more when people point it out to me but there's certain sentence patterns that I gravitate towards I like sentences that you know that where they were it's a kind of list of things and there should be an and connecting the last one but I don't have an and and so that I like that which seems to me is something that's much more common in French than in English but at a certain point that can become a kind of affect there's certain words I think I've used the word sprint which is a really strange word like more than I should have and there's other things like that that I can once I start looking you know that I really you know begin to notice things that that that you know these tics that we as writers have and a lot of those kind of get corrected over through the editing process I think well I mean I think a good editor is really able to take your work and make it better in its own terms and I think a bad editor is really interested in hijacking the work and and so I I would say that the best editors I've had really seem to have a high understanding of what I want to do with the work and have some ideas about how to make it do it better you know there there are editors who really just want to change the work and can be very aggressive and and for the right person or the right work that can be be good but but you know I think that I've often had editors who you know want to make my work more normal or more conventional and and usually that editorial relationship doesn't work out so well partly because I think that the thing that that I like about the work and what my readers like about my work is is what makes it unique and eccentric usually the work is is fairly done by the time it goes to an editor so that the changes that are happening with the editorial process don't end up being like major structural changes my first book was with Knopf done so was with a pretty big New York house and that was great in the sense that you know it meant that the book was in all sorts of bookstores it was just kind of automatically in that it had a kind of built-in publicity that was just part of being with a big house but then at the same time I mean my book which would have been a big book for for a small press for four Knopf was just a very small book and so you know you both got this kind of bump for the book that also not really much attention in terms of publicity or editorial or anything like that my publicity budget for my first book was zero dollars and so so so I found that experience very mixed my editor was was fired shortly after the book came out and you know was complicated coffeehouse is very faithful to my work since they're a non-profit they you know I think my work does well for them but they also they don't have to think about the bottom line quite as much as some some some larger houses do my experience with tor was very good my editor left tour during the middle of the book which seems to happen a lot at large houses as opposed to smaller houses and so so there was a little bit you know strangeness as a result of that but I've liked all the different presses I've worked with in different ways I feel like I've gotten something out of them it looks like coffee house just bought my last color my upcoming collection and they're going to release a bunch of books that were originally published on other houses so so it's starting to feel like coffee houses my main and even only publisher you know I have a lot of ideas for things that I'd like to do and just haven't gotten to them the book that came out with tour in bility I have an idea for a sequel I'd like to do which would be called the moans and I just don't know when I'll get to that if if ever I have an idea for a long novel and I think it's it's taken me a while to figure out how to do kind of big long eka epic novel and so so that too is something that's kind of coming up and and other than that I mean just various stories I'm working on things like that I do think that there is a spiritual aspect to writing and for me I think it's very specific in that I I was forced at a particular moment to choose between my writing and my religion and so so in a sense it's kind of stood in in the place of spiritual practice for me I I do think that there's something meditative about writing I do think that there's something about writing where you're trying to understand human nature in the way that it works and and my sense of that is is that you're trying to do it both for those the good aspects and the bad aspects of it and I do think there's an intense empathy and in really good writing and so all those things I think for me are tied to a kind of notion of what spiritual it's not exactly religious I think it's a good distinction to make between those two things but I do think that that that you know for me personally it has been a kind of practice and and and you know I don't have a religion at this point I'm excommunicated as a Mormon and and really feel like like writing gives me a lot of it feeds me in ways that that religion used to but I think very early on you know having the Mormon Church kind of object to what I was doing made me think about you know why I was doing it should I be doing it didn't matter and and and you know that the the act of being challenged over your work or even to be told that it you know it was wrong or evil is something that that makes you kind of intensely committed to it it also made me realize that that it mattered to people what I did and I think a lot of writers go through their career and just never have that kind of sense they they don't know what people you know people their work is just falling kind of on on on deaf ears but but knowing that it mattered to people even if it meant that they hated it was was actually great for me as a writer it made me feel like what I was doing was was serious and and that I was had to make a decision about whether I was committed to it or not I I think that you know as times gone on there's there's been a more and more of a wall put up between genre and literary fiction I don't think that wall was there early in American literature I mean I think you know Poe is an obvious example of someone who was doing what was considered you know literary fiction and also had had strong generic elements to it I personally think that that there's you know there shouldn't be a wall between those two things that there's that literature and genre have a lot that they can learn from one another and but for years I mean I think I was very resistant to that idea and then in 2003 I had a book called the wavering knife which was a finalist for the International horror guild prize and I was shocked by that I was surprised by that I thought you know I'm not writing horror I don't know what why they would would nominate me for this and then it won that prize and and then I suddenly started looking at at you know some of the other work that was up for that and started paying attention to what was going on and realized that there was a lot of really interesting work being written on on that side of the line that was called genre and that if it had been you know publishes literature people would see different aspects of it and then Peter Straub took over a conjunctions magazine for an issue and did an issue called the new wave fabulous –tz– and that was Peter taking people who were considered to be genre writers and publishing them in a high literary magazine and the result of that too I thought was really to make me think you know there's there's amazing things going on with these people and I'm only seeing them because they're being showcased in a different way than I'm used to so I become much more skeptical over time of the line between those two things when I published in mobility with tor Torres generally fiction press they do a range of things but science fiction is what they're most known for that book was accepted at the same time by a coffeehouse press and and I realized that if I published it with with coffeehouse everyone would see it as as innovative fiction and think of it as very literature if I published it with tour then there'd be a component of my arguments that would see it as science fiction and and I was just I was really curious to see what would happen so I suppose I was kind of experimenting with my career and it was it was really instructive to me just to see you know how how just the way in which something was presented ends up having an effect on how people look at it I mean I guess I would say what is a writer would be the better question for me I mean I think who is a curious way to do it I mean I think that that for me it's so tied to just the act of writing itself and and I know so many students especially who were more concerned about being a writer than writing and and for me that more productive thing is is is is writing so so that's it it's it's I would say that that being a writer is really based on the act of writing and that being something that that's integral to your sense of who you are rather than you know what publishing books or or how you appear publicly or that sort of thing but there's something I think essential to a writer about the act of writing and it gives you something that you probably can't get in any other way you

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