You mentioned in an article with your fiancée [poet Rachel Rabbit White] that in terms of writing you’re “fucking miserable if I’m not doing it.” Has that changed at all? And do you and Rachel bounce ideas off one another?
I try to write every day. I always try to get something out of it. I’m just fucked up if I don’t. It feels like you’re neglecting something if you’re not writing. Being a writer is like having a really big homework assignment due for the rest of your life. You know exactly what I mean.
I have a lot of respect for what Rachel does. She has the best handle on a turn of phrase of anyone that I know of right now. We both have a lot of pride about our work, and we don’t like people tweaking with it. It’s good to have someone who cares about what you do. We sometimes look at each other’s work but we try to not really get in each other’s way.
You currently live in Oxford, Mississippi. Has living in a place with such a rich literary tradition inspired you or helped with your writing at all?
One thing that Oxford will really do is put you in your place. You can’t pretend you’re a big shot writer. They got writers growing on trees around here. I guess it keeps you humble. It keeps your nose to the grindstone. Rowan Oak [a house William Faulkner bought and restored in the 1930s] is right down the street from me, it’s crazy. I pass the house where Faulkner grew up on the way to get cigarettes. It’s a three minute walk from my house. Barry Hannah, Larry Brown, you just name ‘em. There’s a shopping center with 20 stores, and four of them are bookstores. It’s an incredibly literate town. It reminds you that there are a ton of people like you doing what you do, so you have to do it well. It’s incredibly inspiring to live in a place where books still matter.
Your book tackles a lot of issues: war, PTSD, and the opioid crisis, to name a few. Do you feel like covering so many topics will help draw viewers in? Or could it overwhelm them?
There is a lot going on. But the story’s really not that unique. At the core, it’s about a gradual journey into self-awareness. You got this kid, he doesn’t know what he’s doing. But he learns. It’s a bit melodramatic at times. At the end of the day, it’s kind of a universal experience. A kid going from inexperience into knowing. Who can’t relate to that?
Cherry is very serious, but it’s also really funny. Even during some of the bank robbery scenes, you add humor, which gives the book a nice balance.
I think my favorite line from the book is “you run the risk of looking like a crazy pussy.” That’s my type of book, the ones that [have both humor and drama]. I really like Thomas McGuane. Nobody’s Angel is a cool book. The characters are going to be real level, real dry. But then there’s gonna be some absurdity on top of it. You have a cool, arrogant character in these absurd situations, getting humiliated. To be able to switch from those two tones is good when it’s done well, and there’s really not enough of it. A lot of people just have one mode. That’s not life. Life’s kind of dynamic. It’s everything at once. Dostoyevsky was one of the fucking best, balancing absurd comedy with abject, depressing loss and sorrow.
What have you been reading/writing/watching during quarantine?
I’m working on my second book now. I have tons of pages and I really need to just set down the final manuscript. It’s very different from Cherry. It’s in third person, not first person. I’m trying to challenge myself and take different approaches with what I’m doing. I hope I’m successful this time in making the characters seem real enough, to make them dynamic and have depth. I’m really into poetry. I’ve been reading an Iranian poet, Forugh Farrokhzad. She’s a killer. Anything that you read by her is certainly a winner. She was a sex symbol in Iran, but she was controversial. She wasn’t religious and she dressed provocatively. You can really feel the strength in her poems. Out of all the things I read during quarantine, this woman’s poems were number one.