Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Four former--and haunted--classmates. A small town simmering with racism, political strife and broken dreams. Stephen Markley talks about his gorgeous, gorgeous debut novel: OHIO.

Stephen Markley's stunning debut Ohio centers on four former classmates and the simmering summer that brings them all together. And it's on the Best Books of Summer from * Vulture * Time * New York Post * The Millions *.

 He is also the author of Publish This Book and Tales of Iceland. He is a graduate of the Iowa Writers Workshop and his essays and short fiction can be found scattered across the Internet. He currently lives in Los Angeles. I'm so thrilled to have him here. Thank you so much, Stephen!

I always, always want to know why this book now? What made you feel you had to write this?

I’d been trying to write a version of this novel for maybe a decade. It’s not so much you choose the book, but eventually the book chooses you. It went through so many revisions, re-imaginings, re-interpretations. It’s always a process of discovery, which is why it’s so simultaneously fun and frustrating.

Why did you set it in Ohio? I think it’s a brilliant choice, but I would love to hear your thoughts on it.

I’m from a small town in Ohio not too dissimilar from New Canaan. There’s a lot about that place I still love, and a lot that about growing up there that has stayed with me. That place and the friends from there are never far from my heart or mind. The fact that an archetypal town based on my own suddenly smacks headlong into the zeitgeist was just a lucky/unlucky accident.

I also loved the ambitious structure—the course of one night, flashbacks that read as front stories—everything coming together to unfold deeper, more powerful truths. How difficult was this to do? And was this always the structure you wanted to use?

Yes, it was difficult, and getting the structure right took a long time. I think there’s something about the degree of difficulty with a project that attracts me. Novels and films that play with time, that leave you off-balance, that take you backwards and forwards and occasionally sideways, I almost feel like they have the potential—if you get it right—to draw you in more deeply than a straightforward linear narrative. Of course, it’s also easy to make a total mess of your story.

I always also want to know what surprised you when you finished the novel—was their something you wanted to explore and then the answer was something different than what you expected?

I guess I was somewhat taken aback by how intimate it felt, especially when I got the page proofs back and there’d been a bit of space between the last sentence I wrote and actually reading the thing as it would appear in book form. I was like, “Who would’ve thought that’s what this book would turn out to be?” But that’s what makes writing fiction such a gobsmackingly thrilling exercise: because even the author isn’t really in control of it, and what you have in your head is never quite what makes it to the page.

What’s obsessing you now and why?

Climate change mostly. It’s what we should all be obsessed about, but it remains maddeningly far from the forefront of just about any discussion anywhere.

What question didn’t I ask that I should have?

Now that you both live in Los Angeles do you think you and LeBron will become close friends?

Answer: I’m not sure—he’s in Brentwood and I’m on the east side, so traffic could make it tough. But whenever he feels like hanging out, I’m available.

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