Katia Raina

The Magic Mirror

Jonathan Evison: “What More Can You Ask of Anybody?”

I am so pleased and excited to give you Jonathan Evison, another fabulous author. His novel for   adults “All About Lulu” (Soft Skull Press, 2008) spans the 1970s-1990s, delves into dreams, love, obsession, growing up and family. The  book is impossible to put down, and once you reluctantly close its covers, the characters will keep haunting you.       

(Also, coming out from Algonquin is Jonathan’s new “epic Western adventure” called “West of Here.”  http://www.jonathanevison.com/books.html  Look for it this fall!)

Jonathan is a West Coast guy, so unfortunately I wasn’t able to sit down with him for a chat — which I imagne would have been a long and great one. Still, after I sent him my questions and read his answers, all I could think was, in Jonathan’s words, “what more can you ask of anybody?”

 Okay, first I just want to say, it is a true pleasure to read such an honest voice that grabs you from the very first line and won’t let go. In fact, thinking about it, there is NOTHING in your story that just ISN’T original. The narrator who is having such great trouble finding himself, or moving past his great obsession. To the setting. To the great minor characters, from the hot dog idea guy from the Soviet Union to even Acne Joe, to, of course, Will’s family. I think what you did with this story is: you told the truth. I know you didn’t just sit and write an autobiography, but it felt so real, that I have to ask, to what extent — if at all — did a memory of a painful all-consuming passion or an obsession of any sort affect your writing of this book?

J: Well, to some extent, I’ve been obsessed with every woman I’ve ever loved, and a few I didn’t even know (and just for the record, I never had sex with my step-sister or half-sister). Like Will, I lost my primary caregiver as a youngster, and it left me with a bit of a bruised heart. Also, I’m well acquainted with longing in many of its guises.

 In one of your interviews, you say you constantly pick up pieces of real life, which eventually make it into your fiction. Do you keep notebooks? Different notebooks for different sorts of notes, or one crazy notebook for EVERYTHING? Have you kept one as a kid? Was any of the 70s-90s stuff from your notes/research or memory?

J: I must have twenty notebooks, but usually they’re pretty focused at any given time on three different projects: the novel I’m editing, the novel I’m writing, and the novel ‘m daydreaming. That’s how I work. The fact that the three processes are so different, allows me to compartmentalize them. As far the stuff in Lulu, pretty much everything was from memory–the bodybuilding stuff, the radio stuff, the pop culture window dressings. West of Here was a different story all together–tons of research. But aside, from some date and fact checking, Lulu required little research.

What did you do before you became an author (a radio DJ, I hear? http://laist.com/2008/08/13/laist_interview_jonathan_evison_aut.php )

What other jobs have you held?

J: Hmm, let’s see: gardener, laborer, roadkill-hacker-upper, bartender, tomato-sorter, water-meter-checker, courier, telemarketer, busboy, barista (or is it baristo?), production assistant, production coordinator, producer, director, columnist, screenwriter, talk radio host. There’s gotta’ be a dozen more. Oh, vintage clothing dealer, cook,
ice cream server, dishwasher. Wait, I know I’m forgetting a few: journeyman cabinet maker, auto detailer, errand boy. I think you get the point. I started working when I was twelve–bussing tables for my waitress sister, who paid me out of pocket. Many of these jobs have served me well in fiction, because, as one bookseller recently put it to
me (Jessica Hurst, Third Place Books!), the devil is in the details, and I’ve sold my soul outright.)

You say, again in one of your interviews, that you wrote six books before you got Lulu published… can you talk a little bit about the long road that led to Lulu (as inspiration for us . . . ahem . . . the struggling writers out there . . .) 🙂

J: That’s how long it took me to get good. I must have had five hundred rejections before I started placing stories– of course, in hindsight, I now see a lot of that was my own fault–not profiling editors properly, carpet-bombing campaigns, pompous cover letters, just a generally dumb game plan. Still, it takes a long time to learn craft, structure, the verisimilitudes of language. Hell, it can take years just to learn that you can’t forget the reader. Truthfully, though, I was never motivated by publication, or I would have quit fifteen years ago. The only real inspiration a writer should need is a chair. You gotta’ love to write.

I know your perspective has changed since you became an author, but try to think back to when you were than hungry anonymous writer. One can love to write, love it with great passion, still, when the story is done, how do you let go of that crippling expectation when your stuff is out there courting editors? When you were anonymous, how did you find a way to separate yourself from that? Was it a struggle, or was it natural? (If you say it was natural, I WILL hate you). 🙂

J: Throw expectations out the window. It’s fine to daydream, it’s better to believe, and it’s best of all to simply have faith that your diligence will pay off — it almost always does. Profile editors carefully, lick envelopes, keep spending your lunch money on postage, but the second you let go of that envelope, just forget about it. Throw your rejections
away unless they contain some substantive editorial insight. You can’t hang onto rejection, or it will drag you down–this seems to be a demonstrable law of the universe. Optimism is about the best tool I can think of–it really is contagious.

Your new book sounds so different from Lulu. If you look back at some of the stories you published (and didn’t), and these two books, what themes/threads would you say run through them all? (as I have only read Lulu, I wouldn’t know…)

J: Mostly, it boils down to character for me, and always has. The character is the story. My protagonists tend to be people who are stuck in some way. The story is there to serve them, to help them get unstuck, and start inching their way toward some sort of self-realization or catharsis. The story is basically a human obstacle course. Continuing
themes for me seem to be fathers and sons, the trappings of history, unfulfilled promises or ambitions. I’ve also been noticing that my characters often love their automobiles. Oh, and no matter how miserable they are as human beings, most of my characters (like my friends) are doing the best they can. What more can you ask of anybody?


July 2, 2010 - Posted by | Contemporary History, Writing Mirror | , , , , ,


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