On Fiction Wombwell Rainbow Interviews
I am honoured and privileged that the following writers local, national and international have agreed to be interviewed by me. I gave the writers two options: an emailed list of questions or a more fluid interview via messenger.
The usual ground is covered about motivation, daily routines and work ethic, but some surprises too. Some of these fiction writers you may know, others may be new to you. I hope you enjoy the experience as much as I do.
is author of ‘Existential Labyrinths’ and other novels. He lives and works in New York City.
1. What inspired you to write fiction?
It most likely stemmed from my love of reading, my love of books. I’ve always been a voracious reader, since I was a kid, and I suppose that was the stimulus for me wanting to write stories of my own — and I did, many of which are now lost to the ages. I’ve always written things, poems, stories, etc, but from my teens through my thirties, I was primarily involved in music. It wasn’t until I was about 30 years old when I started to actually try to seriously write something. Poetry exclusively, at first, which seemed to be the natural progression from songwriting, then I moved on to fiction, which is what I always wanted to write.
2. Who introduced you to fiction?
As a child I read a lot of adventure, science fiction, horror, things like that — Jack London, Jules Verne, Ray Bradbury, Stephen King, and so on. In my teenage years I discovered Jack Kerouac and Beat poetry and literature in general, as well as Milan Kundera, George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut, Herman Hesse, and the Polish novelist Tadeusz Konwicki, who’s ‘Dreambook For Our Time’ had an enormous affect on me. Then came Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway, Juan Goytisolo, Julio Cortázar, and too many others to mention, which opened up a new world for me and the various possibilities of the novel. Not only did I enjoy reading these authors but they all taught me there was no single way to approach the novel, that it was open to infinite possibilities.
3. How aware were you of the dominating presence of older writers?
They are always present, of course, but I never paid any mind to it except for their impact on literature, the enjoyment of their writing, and what they could teach me. We all approach the page in our own way and have to work with what he have. To think that I’d one day be among them is laughable nor was it ever a serious aspiration to stand along side them. With that said, this doesn’t mean one shouldn’t write. It’s like telling a young pianist to never play because they’ll never be Beethoven or Glen Gould. The younger generations have to forge their own path, do things their own way. Learn from the past but one doesn’t necessarily have to be beholden to it. We live in a very different time, with very different concerns and perspectives. It’s important that today’s writers find their own way.
4. What is your daily writing routine?
I try to make it a point to write every day, though that doesn’t always happen. If I can write anywhere between 500-1500 words, I feel as if I achieved something for the day. Some days are better than others. Some days there’s nothing at all due to other life responsibilities (even though I’ve been able to sell some books over time, let’s face it, no one makes money at this). I always try to carve out some writing time each day.
5. What motivates you to write?
The love of writing. That was always my motivation and probably always will be. I thoroughly enjoy it and would do it whether I had only a handful of readers or no readers at all. Writing for me is a way to explore questions I have about life, about my personal life, about society, about identity, about the so-called ‘meaning’ to life, though I don’t pretend to have any answers to any of it. All my work explores these issues in one way or another, and this is what motivates me more than anything else. I think this is true for most writers, whatever it is that brings them to the page. Publication and writing are two completely different things and I always felt the writing itself, and the process of writing, is far more important. Some people just want to be ‘famous’ but I think those writers eventually give up when they quickly learn it’s not as easy as they assume it is. Other writers write for their own personal reasons, whether that is the love of writing, the joy in the act of creation, or whatever personal journey the act of writing gives them — self-exploration/liberation, or to simply bring into life an idea, to see it come into fruition, like any artist, whether you’re a musician or painter. Most do it for the joy it brings them.
6. What is your work ethic?
Honestly, I’m not sure, except that I am determined for my work to be unapologetically my own and to do things in my own way, despite the so-called ‘rules’ others try to impose upon it. I always feel I’m still learning, always seeking to improve and to move forward. After I’ve written something (and/or published it), I tend to leave it behind and forget about it, move on to the next thing with that goal in mind. I’m not trying to *be* anything — or anyone — other than myself and the best writer I can be, for better or worse. I’ve always admired artists who approach what they do in this way, those who couldn’t care less about trends or who the ‘darling of the moment’ is; those who have a vision and see it through to wherever it may lead; artists who are unmistakably and unapologetically themselves.
7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence you today?
I think their influence is always there in some ways. For me, writers like Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway, Jack Kerouac, to name just a few, are always lurking over my shoulder, I suppose. I try not to *be* them, of course, but to take what I learned from them and incorporate it into my own work in my own way. I think the writers who influence us always remain with us to some extent, some more than others, but they’re always present. These are the writers we learned from, those we tried to ape when first starting out, until we find our own voices. Even if we do, I think they’re always lurking in the background or in between the text. I think this is true for all artists, no matter what medium one works in. They’re always present in some form or another.
8. Who of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?
There are far too many to mention but I will name a few. I admire Cesar Aira and Alejandro Zambra, for the reasons stated above. They’re both unapologetically themselves, do what they want to do, in their own way. I also like Jean-Philippe Toussaint for much of the same reasons; Patrick Modiano for exploring the questions that haunt him; Youssef Rakha, who in my mind is a genius, whose work simply stunned me when I first read it. I also love Ariana Harwicz’s ‘Die, My Love’, which I found incredible; Sjón, for not only his talent and imagination, but, again, for being the writer he wants to be; Niccoló Ammaniti, who is a brilliant storyteller and I admire his explorations into the psychology of adolescence. Then there are the writers I’ve come to know either personally or through social media — Garry Crystal, who I feel I share a literary sensibility with, and is another writer who is unapologetically himself and writes very real stories which I think anyone can relate to; Fernando Sdrigotti, who is another writer who gets it and is consistently coming up with imaginative and thoughtful work; Jessica Sequeria, whose work I find highly imaginative; the list goes on and I don’t want to insult anyone by not mentioning them. The world is teeming with interesting writers doing highly interesting work. The notion that ‘the novel is dead’ is utter bullshit and those who believe that aren’t intellectually curious enough to make the effort required to seek out the wealth of talent there is out there.
9. Why do you write?
Two reasons, mainly. First and foremost, I just love to write, and secondly, to explore those questions that are of interest to me personally. Existential issues mostly — on identity, meaning, whether there ever was one single, all encompassing ‘meaning of life’ or if we give one to ourselves, and of course self-exploration, to try to find whatever ‘meaning’ there is to life in relation to my own, which I think is a universal thing. We all have these questions but I don’t and never claimed to have the answers. Sometimes, the journey itself is the whole point and writing allows that.
10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”
I would tell them to trust their own instincts and write about whatever it is they want to write about. Don’t get caught up in what I like to call the ‘literary bullshit’, which unfortunately is legion (the petty competition, the joy in hatchet jobs, slavishly obeying someone else’s arbitrary ‘rules’, etc). Do your own thing. Be in touch with who you are and allow your writing to reflect that; tell your story/stories, whatever they may be, in your own way. In short, be yourself. And of course, read — read, read, read, explore, keep interested and intellectually curious about life. Inspiration is everywhere and in everything. Be open to it.
11. Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.
I have two (short) novels coming out by the end of this year. The newest, ‘Existential Labyrinths’, was just released, the other, ‘Juliette’, will be out by Christmas. I have other ideas for books I want to write. I want to take the next year to focus on that, take each day as it comes.