What are you reading these days? Do you love/hate/feel neutral about it, and why?
I’ve been reading Terry Eagleton’s Critical Revolutionaries on five critical writers who changed western literary criticism from interwar London. It’s a good (focused) subject for Eagleton, and his playful style lends the subject matter a sense of vibrancy that, at least for me, brings to life the heart of the book, Eagleton’s infectious wonder, which I did not initially expect to find for myself in a century-old shift in literary engagement from some truly reactionary figures (Raymond Williams aside). It’s been a slow read for me, but I’m continually brought back to that infectious wonder and to consider my own literary habits and constructions in light of these ideas from some of the big names in name-having.
Could you provide for us a passage of writing that deeply shifts something inside you?
“How many head do they have to kill each month so he can pay for his father’s nursing home? How many humans do they have to slaughter for him to forget how he laid Leo down in his cot, tucked him in, sang him a lullaby, and the next day saw he had died in his sleep? How many hearts need to be stored in boxes for the pain to be transformed into something else? But the pain, he intuits, is the only thing that keeps him breathing. Without the sadness, he has nothing left.”
(Tender Is The Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica)
This whole novel strikes at the systemic contradictions and brutality of capitalism with devastating clarity and poetic urgency. What better horror exists compared to the lengths we will go to survive at the whim of the profit motive?
When you are working on a piece, what inspirations do you draw from?
I have a Flannery O’Connor sticker on my laptop, a fan-made sticker with mewithoutYou lyrics, a still from a film by Věra Chytilová, lefty slogans, etc. I guess that’s what I want to present as my inspirations vis-a-vis writing or whatever; I paid for the stickers, at least. There are others, but I only have so much space on my laptop. I think the late Jean-Luc Godard’s radical approach to filmmaking remains important for my approach to art and to craft, and I mean that regarding the whole body of his work—all the way up to the end. No sticker, though. I also can’t imagine a church service, much less write one, without thinking of James Baldwin’s story “The Outing,” but again, no sticker. I could go on about Mark Fisher too, lots of folks, but you see what I’m doing here.
What craft elements are you most interested in/attached to within your writing?
I’d certainly like to see fewer commas. I’m also trying to reconsider structure. Jane Alison’s book Meander, Spiral, Explode: Design and Pattern in Narrative sparked something in me last year that’s become more or less become an obsession with how to be better construct pieces with more interesting structures. Maybe Alison also has some engaging work on interesting comma usage, but if she does I haven’t read it yet.
Who (or what) are some of your writing obsessions, and why?
I’m increasingly interested in demystification via what at first appears as sparkling—even mystical—language. I guess I want to see the world best I can for what it is, but I also adore literary or even poetic flare. I read Susan Taubes’s Divorcing this year, and it captivated me in a way a novel hasn’t in a long time. The prose is beautiful, the structure is challenging, etc. but it never comes across as a collection of writing tricks that obscure meaning, but instead the challenging portions appear as new ways of uncovering the truth of the world inhabited by the author. It feels too thin now to give the relationship an association with the word “obsessed,” but I don’t want to come across as the kind of person who is somehow too good to be obsessed with things; maybe instead I should clarify that I’m too simple-minded to be obsessed with literary things. I am too easily distracted. Why become immersed (or eventually obsessed) in a book when I can worry about paying for car repairs or posting the catchy parts of the text on my Instagram account or in a literary interview or whatever (I’m doing some good faith soul-searching here, in conversation!)?
What are some ways in which you remain productive/find time to be a writer?
I know it’s silly, but I trick myself into remaining productive by relying on some undergraduate-level existentialist thinking: I picture myself as, near my core (or at least from the viewpoint of my student loan debt), a writer, which requires my writing for manifestation a la Jean-Paul Sartre’s most basic tenet of his existentialism (the invented personal meaning in the midst of meaninglessness). So, I’m stuck spending my free time actually writing to fulfill this vain urge of wanting to be a writer, whatever that is. I cannot be the image in my head without writing. I’m working on a piece now trying to make more sense of this process and to demystify it (see above for more on demystification).
What does your writing practice look like?
My writing practice right now is walking around my house a few times to make sure I have no excuse to skip out; it’s sitting at my screen and pounding out words and phrases while listening to Miles Davis or Sun Ra or whatever instrumental (likely ‘70s jazz) record fits the mood.
What are some ways in which you get through a block in your creative work?
When I have a block with a creative piece, I usually return to the beginning of that piece, or to the beginning of the affected section, and I edit through what I already have written on to the problematic bits. I often find that the text provides its own answers through details I had not consciously associated with one another; someone in undergrad called this process of the author finding more than they remember leaving behind “organic,” which may not be accurate, but it is certainly useful for my conceptualizing the process and for finding ways out of literary ruts by way of associating elements of the already-existing text.
Tell us about what your writing/creative space looks like.
My writing space is a seafoam-painted office space downstairs from my bedroom with a floor-to-ceiling bookshelf I built with my partner two summers ago. A massive cat tree sits between my Ikea desk and a window that looks out into my yard and beyond that, Milwaukee. Right now, I have a print of Edward Hopper's Rooms By The Sea on one wall and Rene Magritte's Empire of Light on another. Above the pair of computer monitors I use for work, I keep a bulletin board covered in pictures, bookmarks, old postcards, etc. In the dark winter months, I’ve spent a good deal of time playing with the lights in my house to help transition my mind from the work day, in which I use mostly natural light, to creative engagement, which often feels better when the room is artificially yellowed and interesting to look at. It’s softer too, creates a relaxing tone to contrast all the blue light we’re all flooded with via phone screens, monitors, etc.
How do you navigate the experience of submissions/rejections/acceptances?
With grace. I assume a rejection means I have work to do: I should either write a better story for that journal or make the rejected story good enough for someone else to publish. I’m a young guy, I can’t tell whether my work is ever any good, so even the form rejection moves me forward to answering that question, at least for whatever piece I submitted. I find it easier to re-examine a rejected piece, if in no small part because it takes so long to hear back about submissions. I submit a lot, sometimes I publish a story. That story is always better than whenever I first submitted it and had it rejected. I’m impatient. I want the feeling of “having written.” I’m trying to figure all that out.
Regarding your piece in Issue 02, what does it mean for/to you?
The story (“Naked,” for the uninitiated) is for me a story about those places your mind goes when you hear the adults talking outside the room where you’re trying to sleep. I think that’s where it started. I think I was scared a lot of adult conversations at points in my childhood, but I remember really enjoying being able to listen to them as well. Anyhow, this story came from a note in my phone that I vaguely remember stemming from that idea. I think I’m probably the least qualified person to talk about the story beyond that point of initial creation, though. I’m too close to it to recognize what’s going on there.
Do you have any recent publications and/or projects?
My debut novel, Sinners Plunged Beneath That Flood, is available now through Leftover Books:
Is there anything else you would like to share with other writers?
Please keep writing, but do not forget the urgent work of connecting with other folks and fostering community wherever you can. This shared point is where the writing begins to take on meaning, where we form the social bonds that are necessary to our very purpose as thought-crystallizers and to our continued existence as social beings.
G.D. Brown has worked as a literary editor and as an award-winning newswriter. His debut novel, Sinners Plunged Beneath That Flood, is available now through Leftover Books. His other literary work has appeared in or is set to appear in The Woven Tale Press, COUNTERCLOCK, Abandon, Full Stop, Oyster River Pages, The Champagne Room, Jokes Review, Westview, PopMatters, Oracle Fine Arts Review, The Tulsa Voice, and elsewhere. He is a Goddard College MFA graduate and lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.