Tuesday, July 1, 2008

July Selection and Interview with Jonathan Evison

As I mentioned a few weeks back, this month we'll be reading All About Lulu by Jonathan Evison. All About Lulu is a debut novel put out by Soft Skull Press, an independent publishing house in New York. The book follows the life of a boy who's mother dies of cancer when he is 7 years old. His father remarries and Will falls in love with his stepsister, Lulu. I haven't read the book yet, but it has gotten some great reviews and I'm really looking forward to it. I've been reading Evison's blogs on myspace and The Nervous Breakdown for some time and if his book is anywhere near as funny as his other writing, I'm sure I'll enjoy it.

For those of you who aren't familiar with Jonathan Evison, I thought I'd give you a little introduction by way of a short e-mail interview with him:

Let's start with a few questions about you. First, what's your favorite beverage?

Unquestionably, beer. Not even close.

What are some of the job titles you've had in the past?

Syndicated talk radio host, rotten tomato sorter, road-kill-butcher-and captive-bear-feeder.

Captive-bear-feeder?

. . . for awhile I was volunteering at a wildlife refuge in Merlin, Oregon, which I totally loved because I got to be around all the animals; cougars and wolves and bears and foxes and owls and eagles and otters and beavers . . . the downside was, I got a lot of the dirty work – cleaning cages, etc. People would bring fresh roadkill in, and one of my jobs was to hack it to pieces with a machete and feed it to the bears, a job which I had neither the stomach nor the heart for, but undertook for the pleasure of the bears . . .

Tell me something about All About Lulu that I won't read in the
press.

My wife wrote it. You’ll never read that in the press. Joking, of course. James Frey wrote it.

What have readers liked most from All About Lulu?

Will’s voice, I suppose. Or the characters. People really seem to like getting to know Gerard and Eugene and the twins.

What has been the most surprising part about the publishing process for you?

How civilized and generally nice people in the publishing industry are, compared to say, film and radio. Also, how ass-backward most publishing models are. Could there be a connection here? I’m not sure. I don’t think so.

Why did you choose to query Soft Skull publishing? What was it that attracted you to a smaller publishing house?

Two words: Richard Nash. One of the great editors working today. Richard not only has excellent taste, he’s got guts, heart, and he’s a madman— the dude e-mails me at two in the morning, sleeping baby in his arms, typing with one arm. The biggest advantage to Soft Skull, and other great indie presses, like Dzanc, or Hawthorne, or Greywolf, is that they actually concentrate on building readerships for their authors, putting all their intellectual resources and energy behind them, instead of trying to catch lightening in a bottle, like many of the corporate houses.

I've been reading your stuff on myspace for awhile now, and I was just wondering if you plan to publish a book of essays in the future (your Sketches of People I Hardly Remember)? I know you've got some other books waiting in the wings, what do you think will likely be the next thing we see from you?

Probably the next thing you’ll see from me is the big shaggy beast of a book I just finished called “West of Here,” which is either a six-hundred page world-beater, or just a very eccentric novel by a guy who should maybe watch his reefer intake on the next draft. But I do have two earlier novels that I haven’t physically burried, as well as the aforementioned “Sketches of People I Hardly Remember; A History of the World As I Found It,” all of which I would like to see go to press eventually. Or not. Who knows?

Why do you bury your books?

I don't bury all of them . . . I just bury the bad ones, which in my case meant the first three novels I wrote . . . and when I say bury, Imean literally dig a hole, salt the earth, the whole nine yards . . . I also dispose of all my rejection notices, although burning is my preferred method for this . . .confidence is indispensable to the writer if he or she is to make the right decisions . . . I don't like to have any reminders around of past failures . . .

Also, there seems to be a general buzz surrounding All About Lulu, how did the book get recognized so quickly?

A combination of things, luck being one of them. The right publisher. The right readers. The fact that Lulu is a trade paper original (which has really helped in terms of getting enthusiastic booksellers on board). And also, the book just sorta’ feels like the right book at the right time, kinda’ thing. I think a lot of people can relate to the family stuff. It’s good for group discussion, methinks. And of course, I’ve been very fortunate to have amazing advocacy and support all around me.

How do you feel about all of this (the book, the film, the recognition)?

Like a very grateful man. Incredibly grateful-- often of late, wistfully so. Like I was already lucky to have been dragging my bumper all over town all those years with no dental insurance, just because I had writing as a way of life, but now I can devote even more time to it, and make a living (sort of).

Lastly, where can readers go if they want a taste of your work?

Just about any bookstore, or Amazon, or whatever. Oh, you mean free work? Ha! There’s some personal essays archived at the nervousbreakdown.com— Brad Listi’s thriving literary co-op, which, as you know, is an excellent venue for dozens of great writers.

OK then, thanks so much Jonathan and I hope you make it out to Sacramento.

My pleasure, thanks to you, Becca! I also hope to get my ‘Sac on’, as it were . . .

Jonathan Evison likes rabbits. His work had appeared in Orchid, Knock, Opium, Quick Fiction, and other journals. All about Lulu is his first novel.

P.S. Check out Powell's Books for another interview with Evison.

2 comments:

Chason said...

I enjoyed the e-mail interview with Evison. "All About Lulu" sounds interesting and it has gotten a lot of five-star reviews on Amazon. Unfortunately, the whole people in your family dying of cancer thing is something I can relate to. It took two of my uncles and my grandma.

Becca said...

Chason: Well, I don't think the dying of cancer thing is too big a portion of the book so maybe you'll be able to get through it...?