“I woke up to my writer’s identity at around fourth grade. It was as if I … suddenly remembered who I was, recovered from amnesia in a flash.”
How did you discover that you were a writer?
Discovery isn’t really inaccurate. I woke up to my writer’s identity at around fourth grade. I loved little as I loved books and stories, and the question what do you want to be when you grow up had been pestering me. One afternoon I was sitting in front of my bookshelf in contemplation when it hit me: oh, I’m supposed to do this, tell stories, make books. It was as if I had forgotten and suddenly remembered who I was, recovered from amnesia in a flash.
The other roles I play are just roles, artifice, disguises for a society in which I am essentially a stranger. The writer in me is true, connected to nature, not a lens or game but a centered wholeness.
Describe your writing process.
It depends. Right now I’m a dad of two little kids, and like most American parents, I have little social capital or support. I’ll write a paragraph here, another one there in between all the stuff I do. I’ll write at work instead of socializing with colleagues, and occasionally I’ll write at night if I get a burst of energy.
On occasion, when I have time off from my teaching job, I’ll get into a kind of trance, especially if I’m working on a project longer than a short story. I’ll listen to trip hop or really abstract instrumental music, and I’ll write for five or six hours straight, drink lots of tea and coffee and seltzer. I feel most alive at those times.
An important part of my process is walking. I take long walks before writing sessions, especially if I have something controversial or intense to unload. I talk to myself while doing it. I say really nonsensical, absurd stuff, imagine arguments with adversaries, that kind of thing.
What was the inspiration behind what you’ll be reading at Waterline?
The Fugue is a complex, long novel with many layers to it, and those layers were inspired by divergent, seemingly unrelated experiences. While the book is set in Cicero, my hometown—heavily influenced by my Catholic upbringing, my experience as a son of war refugees—it is inspired also by my time living in New York, between 2000-2003, when I first conceived the project. I took inspiration from great musicians I met there, great recordings of music, and had also developed obsessions with Russian novels, metal sculpture, and impossible questions about the nature of imagination and memory, as they dance together to make up our consciousness.
The scene I’m reading deals with characters, all of them traumatized by war, who happen across each other but are also stalkers of sorts. They are wrestling with fate and losing. The scene deals with a loss of faith but also a release of responsibility. I knew people like these in my childhood: displaced, intoxicated, lonely, passionate, intelligent, tragic. They weren’t meant for this world but had nowhere else to go.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a book of nonfiction that deals with cultural perception and the value of education in a society increasingly anti-intellectual. I’m about half way finished.