My first interview subject (and I believe the first person I have interviewed since, oh, 1999) is Alyse Knorr, a poet whose book Mega-City Redux I have been giving to all my friends since late last year. Up next on the interview docket are two more poets, which is appropriate, since
Because this is the Fictator, and it's what I do here, I'm going to explain how this thing came together, and how what happened to me can benefit you if you are a not-yet-famous writer.
A few weeks ago, a playwright visited my grad school capstone class and advised us that if we wanted to get our work in the world, we needed to "hustle". He used the word hustle about 67 times in the hour or so he talked with us, but when we asked him what that meant in terms of writers other than playwrights, he seemed unsure. I raised my hand and said what about book reviews? or interviews? Sure, he said, and then he said "hustle" a few more times and let us go.
In the last six months I've been trying to do book reviews, because it's a good way to get my name in the world and familiar to publications (and it's helpful for sharpening my brain, and it keeps up my familiarity with what's in print). Book reviews grease the way into literary circles, a little, and sometimes, if you do them well enough, you can get paid for them, and even establish a reputation because of them. I don't write them very well or very quickly or to people's specifications, so it's not as ideal an avenue for me as it might be for others. But in doing small-press reviews, I have nevertheless connected with writers I admire, and I've learned that connecting with those writers is not as hard as it seems from your little solitary writer-garret. Sometimes you can just email them and say hey, I liked your book, and they'll email you back.
Which is how I met Alyse. Around the same time I emailed her and said how much I loved her book, my friend Chris, who's an editor at Entropy, asked me if I wanted to do an interview series for the site. This idea terrified me, because I only have journalist-type interview experience, and that very amateur indeed. But it dawned on me that Chris was trying to help me get my name out there the same way that writers of good book reviews can. And I realized that, in the past two years, I have met a LOT of writers, many of whom know other, quite well-known writers.
An idea that's been coming together slowly, for a long time, for me - workshop material, maybe - is that you can learn more from bad art than you can from good art. When you break down why something is bad, it teaches you how to avoid mistakes. I am pretty sure similar lessons exist in art that is fine, but that repels certain readers. I'm much more interested in why people don't like books than I am in why they like them. People can dislike books for so many reasons, and those reasons sometimes reveal aspects of the person's character that would never surface otherwise.
Chris gave me free rein on a theme for the series. So I thought, why not ask writers what books they hate, rather than asking them same-old questions about their work? It seemed possible that talking about the books writers hated would reveal resistance against those books existing in their writing. That's a much more interesting angle to me than asking "What inspired you to write about X?"
So here we are. Granted, I was asked to do the series, rather than having to pitch it, but I'm pretty sure that the idea sold it better than my personality could, so put that in your pocket as advice. If Entropy hadn't wanted it after all, for whatever reason, I would have looked around to other websites to pitch. Also, my list of possible subjects has three divisions: "Can get", "Can probably get," and "Pie-in-the-Sky." This has turned out to be a useful way to look at the series, and I'm betting it's a strategy that'll be of use in other projects, too. (Of note: one of the Pie writers has half-agreed to do the interview, and it's becoming possible that I'll get all three. Writers are not as scary as you think.)
As for this particular interview: Alyse was a terrific subject and I was excited to be able to bat ideas around with her. (Our emailed conversation was a good deal longer than the resulting interview.) Read and enjoy.