One of the things I love so much about my publisher Algonquin is that I really adore the other writers they publish. we all support one another, cheer one another on, and generally make mischief when we see one another. I first met Jonathan Evison at BEA when I was promoting my first novel with Algonquin, Pictures of You, and he was promoting West of Here. To say he's hilarious, funny, kind, generous is only the half of it. He's also one of the most brilliant writers around with a heart the size of Jupiter.I'm honored to host him here. Thank you, Johnny!
The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving is a departure from West of Here--I think you yourself called it a novel of heart. What was it like taking on such a different novel and did you ever think uh oh, can I pull this off?
You know, I never really questioned whether or not I could pull this novel off. I just had to write it. There was a lot of emotional dredging involved, and that was not easy, but totally rewarding every step of the way—cathartic, really. My hope is that this will translate for readers.
I deeply admired the structure of the book, the way you teased out the answer to the question (what happened to this guy?) while taking us on this wonderful, flamboyant road trip. What was it like mapping out this novel? What did you know about it when you started--and what were some of the surprises?
As silly as it sounds, I envisioned this novel from the very beginning as an artichoke. I just kept peeling back these layers of armor until I got to the heart of the characters. I was really resistant to the idea of writing a road novel, so that was a surprise. The characters forced me to set them in motion—they needed the road to deliver them, and I suppose I needed it, too.
The novel, to me, is so much about forgiveness--self and of others, of how we move on or stay stuck. Can you talk about that? Also, I know that this book has a beating heart that comes from your own experience. Would you mind talking about that, too?
Forgiveness is one of the most powerful and affecting human endeavors, I think, and certainly one of the most cathartic. This book forced me to relive in large measure some very sad and unpleasant experiences, such as the freak accidental death of my sister, and the nearly instantaneous and totally unexpected dissolution of my first marriage. Both of these losses were irredeemable, and yet we really have very little choice but to motor on, right? This book had to be funny. It just had to be.
You are this incredibly generous writer, always championing other writers and indie bookstores, and you also have an interesting backstory. You buried several of your old manuscripts and it took you a few books to get to your NYT bestselling glory. Yet, you are unpuffed up about it, you still sit down and do the work. What keeps you on such an even keel and how can other writers grab some of that attitude?
In a word, gratitude. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world to be doing exactly what I've wanted to do my whole life. And frankly, I'm bowled over by the love and support I've received not just now that I've achieved some level of success, but always. I was quite happy as a starving artist for twenty years. The corporeal realm is all gravy. You've gotta be grateful for every second of it, even the horrible parts. Every single moment of our lives has the potential to make us more expansive people. As far as helping others, it's an honor and a pleasure. I mean, really, you can only do so much to help yourself, at some point you've gotta' help others. Everybody wins.
What's obsessing you now and why?
Whether or not the corn I planted will be alive and knee-high by the fourth of July, or by the time I get back from this tour leg. I'm also obsessed with Melville at the moment because I've been tasked with writing a forward to a new, definitive edition of Typee, and that's a tall order. And, as always, I'm obsessed with British ales.
What question should I be ashamed that I forgot to ask?
You should never be ashamed. You're a peach, with a great big heart and a generous spirit. But since you didn't ask, my very favorite beer is Samuel Smith's Nut Brown Ale.