Photo credit: Lucas Flores Piran
Describe your latest book.
One of the Boys
is an urgently written coming-of-age story that follows a 12-year-old as he watches his father descend into an all-consuming crack and cocaine addiction. The novel begins in the basement bathroom of a suburban home in Kansas, where, through the coercion of the father, the narrator and his older brother drum up damning evidence against their mother to win the war — the father’s term for divorce.
Restless and questing, the three then move westward in hope of a better life. The story unfolds in Albuquerque’s sublime, ugly Western landscape, just off the interstate: apartment complexes, biker bars, grocery stores, balloon fiestas, bus stations. The Sandias loom in the near distance. Biblical weather sometimes arrives, full of portent.
One of the Boys
is a chronicle of the vagaries and excesses of American men; it is a cautionary tale of a contemporary Gatsby trying to carve out a new life via relocation; but most importantly, it is the story of two foxhole-weary brothers banding together to protect each other from the father they once trusted, but no longer recognize.
What was your favorite book as a child?
2001: A Space Odyssey
When did you know you were a writer?
At around 10 or 11 years old when a poem of mine was published in one of those massive anthologies done by, I believe, the National Poetry Foundation.
Tell us something you're embarrassed to admit.
That I splurged for my bio to be put in the back of the NPF anthology. And, of course, the poem itself, which was titled "Who Am I?" and went something like:
I ask you who you are
But I don’t know who I am
I don’t know who I am
But I know who you are
Some men know who one man is
But don’t know who they are
And they may never find out
But those who do possess a power
To live life instead of living death.
What does your writing workspace look like?
A perk of having finally published a novel is that I no longer need to share my workspace with the cat box, though admittedly it worked wonders in heightening my shit-detection ability. I now share an office with a stackable washer-dryer unit.
Introduce one other author you think people should read, and suggest a good book with which to start.
David Markson has always held sway over me, and not just for his wild inventiveness, but for his artfully restrained pathos, as well. I would start with Wittgenstein’s Mistress
What's the strangest or most interesting job you've ever had?
A logistics coordinator for a disaster relief company called American Catastrophe.
A supervisor at a lockdown treatment center for at-risk youth.
Have you ever made a literary pilgrimage?
Not intentionally, but while an undergraduate at Columbia, I loved my work-study job at Casa Hispánica — a modest, ancient, wooden library — where around each corner the ghost of Lorca
What scares you the most as a writer?
Same thing that scares me as a human: my face on a milk carton.
Offer a favorite sentence or passage from another writer.
“Dreaming out this sunset. Tacked up on a cross and looking down. A cradle of passive, mystifying sorrow. Flooded in tears. Never be too wise to cry. Or not take these things. Take them. Keep them safely. Out of them comes love.”
I have never had thoughts so beautiful and deranged, but neither have I ever been as drunk as their derelict thinker, Sebastian Dangerfield of The Ginger Man
What's your biggest grammatical pet peeve?
It’s not so much a pet peeve as an utter fascination. I’m enthralled by the significance of the comma that sometimes precedes the subordinating conjunction “where.”
Take these two sentences:
I went into the room where the dead puppies were.
I went into the room, where the dead puppies were.
The absent comma in the first example implies that the narrator knew the room contained dead puppies. The comma in the second example suggests the opposite, that the narrator didn’t know the room was full of dead puppies until — oh no, turn back! — he or she entered. And what does that mean for the reader? Either we are following a person who knows something about the stashing away of dead puppies or we are following a person who must be horrified having just walked into a room filled with them. What thrilling narrative potential there is in one tiny mark!
Do you have any phobias?
I’m petrified of driving in bad weather.
Do you believe in writer’s block?
No, writing is always difficult.
What's the best advice you’ve ever received?
I’ve tried to take to heart something that George Saunders
, our 21st-century artist-saint, once said: “If we bear down on our material with a mind that is as uninflected as possible — a mind that is not judging, that is not going to stomp off in anger if things don’t go well, a mind that is patient and proactive and hopeful — that is, if we abide with the work as we would abide with a friend, a friend in the midst of some temporary difficulty — then, eventually, we will reach the beauty. We will.”
Top five books from high school I’m happy to have finally read:
1. King Lear
4. Julius Caesar
5. The Tempest
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is a fiction writer from Kansas City. He has a BA from Columbia University, as well as an MFA from Syracuse University, where he was a Cornelia Carhart Fellow. He has lived in Kansas, Missouri, New Mexico, Florida, Colorado, and Hawaii. He currently lives in New York with his wife. One of the Boys
is his first novel.