What is the current project you are working on?
After a few years of sustained short story writing, I am turning again to the novel. A
noirish tale about a retired hitman with dementia. His chickens have come home to
roost as it were.
What is the one piece of writing advice, good or even bad, that you have received that has impacted you most?
It may seem a little odd, but a tip I picked up from Stephen King of all people, has
become one of the most important tools in my writing toolbox. An early editor once told King to reduce his finished work by 10-percent as he found it too “puffy.” I have used the 10-percent solution as a cold technical exercise to sharpen my work. That is to say, if I write 1000 words I will cut it down to 900 – NO MATTER WHAT. The results, as with most compression, have been wonderful. It’s amazing what words can be let go as you perform this exercise. The resulting prose is always crisper, sharper, and moves with lighter feet. I have even used the more radical 20-percent solution—which yields even sharper (albeit starker) prose. The message is simple and invaluable: compression improves almost any kind of writing.
What are some of the greatest influences upon your writing, whether other writers or outside influences?
Early on, I fell under the spell of the Irish triumvirate of Beckett, Joyce, and Flann
O’Brien. Then for years I was intoxicated by the poet John Ashbery. I am also a student
of modern art (by which I mean 20th century painting/sculpture), and see its influences
in my imagery and colour palette. Also, jazz guitarist, Wes Montgomery, for years the
soundtrack of my world, has undoubtedly inspired me to find the right groove with
anything I write.
Do you have a favorite place to write, or are there any habits, inspirations, or rituals that help you?
I can, and have, written almost anywhere, often with the chair about to be yanked out
from under my butt, or someone from a collection agency banging on my door. Coffee is essential. French press, Black Horse Three Sisters ground fresh. Or barring that, any dark, caffeinated beverage. The rest is teeth grinding and muscle memory driving the fingers as swiftly as possible across the keyboards, or if a computer is unavailable scribbling feverishly into a note pad. I write when and where I can. Sometimes—often it’s like a criminal act, secretive, adrenalin-spiking, and not approved by anyone.
How do you find inspiration for you work, particularly this piece?
I’ve been reading a lot of Philip K. Dick as of late. A marvelous fabulist. Also, I have
been reading about humanity’s future, both the most pessimistic and cliched
assessments, and a few more positive ones. We are constantly reminded—and remind
ourselves—how unnatural so much of what we do is. But I find that premise absurd.
We’re made of stardust, of atoms. We are of nature, not apart from it, as much as our
theologians and naturalists would like to suggest. Whatever we create is really not
“apart” from nature. Are we not merely instruments of nature to further recreate or to
contemplate itself? Thus, were all the trees to die as a result of our reckless and selfish
behavior, or a “natural” calamity, who’s to say that our more progressive and advanced
successors couldn’t recreate something as beautiful and useful as a tree, or a forest?
We are creators, we should never forget that. And we aren’t separate from the natural
world. We are finding our way, true, stumbling badly at times, but perhaps, contrary to
doomsayers—we will find the right way despite our deficiencies and current primitivism.
What inspired you to create the tree-less world of “The Forest?” What kind of research went into it?
I have partially answered this above. But indeed, I meticulously researched the subject
in scientific journals—i.e. photovoltaic leaves—and tested my premise that given some
future catastrophe, a better version of ourselves could recreate a forest, and perhaps
anything else already existing in nature. I think the key to our success and survival will
rest, in the end, with our resourcefulness and creativity.