Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Jason Gurley Talks About How He Writes

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1. What are you working on?

At the moment, two projects that couldn't be more different. I'm trying to finish Eleanor, the novel I've been working on since 2001. I'm still a good 30-40,000 words from the end, I think. I'm anxious to finish this story, get it to my editor, and start the hard work of getting it ready for publication.

The other project is a short story that's very different from my usual work. It's told from the point-of-view of a post-apocalyptic baddie – it is, I think, a rare examination of what goes on inside of those guys' heads. You know the guys I mean – every movie or story about the end of the world has them. They run around in battered leather outfits, usually wearing some kind of threatening mask, carrying knives, raping and murdering for no good reason. I think they all shop at the same store – Post-Urban Outfitters or something. But I can't recall ever seeing a story that made these fellows more than two-dimensional threats, so that's what I'm attempting here. It is, however, the single most violent story I've written, and it's full of misogynistic characters who I'm not sure are redeemable in any way, and I'm not sure it's the kind of thing I'll ever publish. I'm still searching for the ending. It may never come. I may just put this one aside and work on something else instead.

Oh – and I'm also taking part in a new anthology, one about time travel. I'm thinking of resurrecting a failed comic script that deals with this very topic. That script was originally called My Father Who Travels Through Time. I don't know if the title will survive or not, but the story just needs a bit of work. It's got real potential, I think. It's delightfully weird.

2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?

I don't often think about this sort of thing, really. I do read a lot of science fiction, and historically I read a lot of horror, though most was Stephen King, and I do find myself accidentally writing horror stories sometimes – but I don't think I often try to hold true to the tropes of the genres I write in. I sometimes think of the stories I write as simple human experiences that take place in a genre environment. The Man Who Ended the World is a story about a deeply flawed man and his simple desire for solitude, just blown up on a grand, terrible scale. The Settlers and The Colonists try to answer questions about what mankind's second and third and fourth acts would look like – how do we change when we leave our home world behind? – but they try to answer them in small, personal ways, using intimacy of characters who exist in a bigger, changed world. Those stories aren't always about the people doing the changing (though sometimes they are).

And Eleanor, may I finish it soon, is one of the more difficult-to-classify things I've ever written. It has elements of the fantastic, elements of science fiction, elements of fable and fairy tale... but it's all woven through a fundamentally sad tale of loss and lost love.

I suppose I just like to write about people, and sometimes they happen to be involved in some pretty strange and mysterious things.

3. Why do you write what you do?

I love to ask questions, and most of my work begins with a question. What would it be like if a closed society fell under the sway of a religious cult? How would a family respond to losing one of its own? What happens when we push our planet past the red line?

For years I wrote novels about human people living human lives right here on a human Earth. My first novel was about a young kid who found success as a published author. (No wish-fulfillment there, right?) My second was a long flashback about the '60s, told by a man who has just set his life on fire. My third was about the penalty for lies, about a boy who ran from his problems and only created more for himself. You might have classified all of those as literary fiction.

Eleanor arose from a very confusing period of my life, one in which I was asking questions about my own choices that I didn't have answers to. That story became a sort of vehicle for me to answer those questions, and because they were big questions for me, they became big questions for the book... and the story became very big to answer them. Over time it transformed into something entirely different – especially as I no longer needed to answer these questions for myself – and so it became my first book that took a small, human story and played it out in a magical way. It was my first real genre story, other than some scattered Twilight Zone-esque short stories I'd written over the years. That shift really informed my work, and taught me that it was okay not to try to write BIg, Important, Great American Novels every time I sat down at the laptop. It was okay to tell a story for the sake of telling a good story.

4. How does your writing process work?

I used to be fairly persnickety about writing. Everything had to be just so – the right light, the right amount of quiet, etc. A person's cough, or the sound of a lawnmower down the block, could tragically end the session. In those days I lived alone, and I wrote whenever I felt moved to do so.

But I think I've grown up as a writer. My life has changed in big ways – I have a wonderful family, a talented and beautiful wife and a smart and funny daughter, and our house is full of light and boisterousness almost around the clock. I've learned to steal any moments I find for writing. I can write without silence, and without solitude. These days, if I have fifteen minutes, I can jam out a couple of thousand words. I write fast out of necessity, and I think it's made me a stronger writer than before.

I'm also less insufferable. I think about the way I approached writing all those years ago, and I was quite a snot about it.
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