Fellow Algonquin author. The most generous writer you'll ever meet. Smart. Funny and deeply talented. All adjectives to describe Jonathan Evison, bestselling, rapturously praised author of West of here and The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving. I'm thrilled that Meg Pokrass (who is also, smart, funny, generous, and deeply talented) is doing these honors. Thank you both!
MP: My background was in theater, I acted for many years. When the run of a show ends, it was very sad. Not only are you saying goodbye to real people (your fellow actors) you are also saying goodbye to your character, both internally and externally. Closing nights were sad as hell for me...This leads me to a question about completion in novel-writing. When a novel has been completed, is there a feeling that may be akin to an actor's closing night performance? Do you continue to experience your character's perspectives for a while?
JE: Well, see, they're never quite done, as with a theater production. Not until my editor pries them from my hand. I just keep working them and working them until that day. The truth is, by the time they're actually "done"--if I've done my job right-- I should be sick of them. But the characters really do live with me forever, like dead people. Even closer than dead people, really, because their hopes and fears were my hopes and fears. Long after I put them on the shelf, I still see things as my characters would have seen them. In this way, the whole act of novel writing makes me more expansive person.
MP: Please talk about the crucial ingredient/ingredients toward developing real characters, creating fictional people who you make become real, and who we care about…
JE: If I have one native skill, or gift, it is that I am empathic, and always have been. I relish perspectives outside of my own. I want to see the world through as many eyes as I possibly can, and my characters allow me to do that--or at least approximate doing that. It is a privilege and a joy to inhabit my characters-- to suffer and rejoice with them, to feel their aches, to learn from their experience, to taste their victories and defeats. I get to climb mountains, and buried loved ones, and feel in full measure, the gratitude and regret of my characters. Ultimately, I get to redeem them. And all without getting out of my pajamas.
MP: A strong natural sense of empathy seems an essential trait for a novelist. I remember an interview/discussion between Daniel Handler and Richard Ford here at City Arts and Lectures. Handler asked Ford "How do we create loveable characters? Any thoughts on this subject of developing likeable and/or lovable characters?
JE: Well, love them. Be fair to them. Make them suffer, but don't forsake them. Do not condemn them, or judge them, with your mighty authorial voice. Don't be disgusted by them when they're at their very worst, which is often. Inhabit you characters, body and soul, and you will love them no matter how flawed they are.
MP: And, what is important to you when writing characters which are not particularly …er… lovable?
JE: The people you described sound like my heroes. I want my people to be as flawed as possible. All I ask of them is that they are making some small effort--and likely failing-- to get better, to improve themselves. Otherwise, I'm not interested in them. In this respect, I don't write characters I don't like, at least on some level. Except, say, for a few irredeemable villains, like John Tobin, in West of Here, who serves more as an instrument to the story than a character.
MP: What do you love the most about readings, and public appearances? What are some of the most special events you've experienced? Conversely, what is hard about being totally out there, on the road... Do you get tired and depleted? Are there tricks to keeping yourself healthy and ways to combat some of this hectic-ness?
JE: After twenty years of having no readers at all, I really appreciate having them now. It is a pleasure to interact with people who want to talk about this thing that I love to do more than anything else, this thing I live to do. I love it most when I'm on the road, and I get kidnapped, by say, Jenny Shank and her merry band of pranksters in Denver, or the staff of Boswell Books in Milwaukee, and we go out and drink beer as a group have wonderful drunken discourse, and I get to know a town a little bit, bar by bar. Sometimes I'll get to take in a museum, or somebody will give me a driving tour of a city. As far as tips for staying healthy on the road, I'm the last person on earth you'd want tips from. I routinely fill my hotel bathtub with ice and load it up with a case of beer. I eat French Dips and pizza as much as anything else. I sleep about five hours a night, and unless I'm lucky enough to have an off-day, I never exercise. I miss my family dearly, but I manage to keep myself busy, and mostly out of trouble. Of course, I get very little writing done, aside from notes, though the notes help so much in the gestation stage, which is usually where I'm at come tour time. So by the time I get back to my writing routine, I'm working with some pretty well developed material.
MP: How has Facebook and other social media been for you?
JE: I love social networking. I like to hear as many voices as possible at all times. I love the great cacophony of humanity--and never before have I been able to sit on a great big virtual street corner like FB, and hear so many voices. I have an ungodly number of Facebook friends, but honestly, I've personally met probably 70% of them, if only briefly. Thus, being a FB friend is generally my second point of connectivity with a person. Not that I don't befriend people who reach out. In my opinion, social networking is only a good idea for those writers who really enjoy and embrace it. If you don't enjoy it, you're not bringing anything to the conversation, and people are gonna' get that. So, why bother? Also, FB and Twitter and and the like are an amazing resource, not only for topical stuff like news links, bet for stuff like: "Hey, we're looking for midwife in Kitsap County. Any recs?" Or, "Hey, know any great bars in Baltimore?"