My friend and collaborator Joshua Young (author of When the Wolves Quit and To the Chapel of Light) tapped my shoulder in this epic game of tag for the project “The Next Big Thing,” a self-interview for writers with recent or forthcoming books (or I guess projects in process as well). After I answer the questions I have the pleasure of tagging more writers to do the same!
It’s no real surprise that Mr. Young would tag me. After all, we have a collection coming out next week called The Diegesis. I suggest that you read his thoughts here before reading my own, and I’ll try not to say the same things that he did.
What is the working title of the book?
The Diegesis. (I’ll let you guys decide if that title is “working” for you or not.)
Where did the idea come from for the book?
Well, the easy answer is that it came from Josh. But when are answers ever easy? Josh first emailed me a fat packet of poems and said he didn’t know what to do with them, but that he wanted me to do something about them with him. I suppose I could dig up the early messages, but the thing the still echoes in my memory from that time was this idea of a documentary. We were in a city, and it was our job to capture what was going on in there.
We didn’t really get too much more specific than that. Josh knew he wanted to break it up into five parts somehow, and that the form would change, but otherwise we just started writing, trying to capture a city that may or may not actually exist. I’m pretty sure this city is mostly a hybrid of Bellingham, Seattle, and Chicago—the main places he and I have haunted over the past several years. I find it interesting, though, that in both of our poems in the collection our characters end up on road trips. The players in our documentary appear to always want to escape the city, if they can.
The other idea that came out early was that we were allowed to “intrude” on each other’s writing. We could suggest tweaks to each other’s poems, for instance. Most importantly though, we could populate them with footnotes. This made for an interesting connection-making process, as we were almost acting like the cast of MSTK300, just blurting out whatever came to our minds, even if it meant we were interrupting someone else’s train of thought. By part IV, these footnotes have inserted themselves into the very fabric of the poems, challenging both the form of the pieces and the rules for how they should be written (and read).
What genre does your book fall under?
I’m terrible at questions like this. But I still like to call it a documentary.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
It couldn’t be actors. If it’s a documentary, we’d have to get out there with handhelds and interrogate the fuckers ourselves.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
A poetic documentary of a city full of people searching for an answer to a question they’re too busy to define—all set to a rockin’ soundtrack.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
I think about a year. I’ve often commented that I don’t remember writing most of this, and I don’t remember when it was done. It just was one day. That’s the incredible thing about working with the Asimo man-machine that is Joshua Young. He gets shit done. We drafted a lot of it through endless email exchanges, meeting in person a handful of times to hammer out the opening crawl and the ending credits. Lots of loose leaf pages and coffee. And the Horseshoe. The revision period took a good few months as well, during which we defined the collection a little better by dropping the pieces that didn’t fit as well. One of those pieces I still really want to do something with.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
First and foremost, Josh did. It was his idea and his drive that got this thing done. But he inspired in other ways too. In the time I’d spent with him in grad school, I’d always marveled at his ability to establish such a clear, authoritative voice. I considered myself several years behind the guy in having true experience as a poet, but one thing I learned through reading and workshopping his drafts was that if you could fill your work with the kind of character and ambiance that his had, the rest of the details would always fall into place.
My “poetic spirit guide” for the project was (and I hate to say this because it sounds so cliché) probably TS Eliot’s The Waste Land. First, I’ll say that we do not pretend that this book is of that kind of quality or deserving of that kind of fame, but one thing about great works is that they inspire. Certain elements of subject matter similarities are present there, I’m sure, but in relation to our work what inspired me was the collaboration between Eliot and Ezra Pound, an element that I feel gets overlooked sometimes when people consider that work. It’s Eliot’s poem, but Pound is all over it.
The other obvious connection between our book and Eliot’s is the use of footnotes. As I understand it, his were meant to clarify the themes, whereas I feel like ours were there to complicate them. I find it interesting that some versions of The Waste Land don’t include the footnotes. That would be a totally different experience to read, methinks. So, while I don’t think either of us were aspiring be that poem, or even to model our own writing after it, it was never far from my mind simply because I felt that its existence somehow gave us permission to do what we were doing. Poets love breaking the rules, but I think a lot of us like to do it while still maintaining some sense of tradition.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
I don’t know. I’ve probably already said too much as it is. I think the reader might have fun, obviously, trying to parse out who wrote what. But sometimes I even forget. But at the end of the day, I’d love to have the readers tell me what piqued their interest. It’s hard to speak for them. The cool thing about collaborating is that there’s this sense that what you wrote is not yourself, so that when I went back to read everything during the editing/proofing part, I had the privilege of having the whole thing feel somehow “other” from me.
And to quote Josh: “Also, my little brother, Jordan designed the cover. My twin brother, Caleb made the book trailer.”
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
To any agencies/publishers reading this: I have a collection of poems set in a post-apocalyptic zombie dreamscape. I’d love to try and get that one published next.
My tagged writers for next Wednesday are: