Writer Justin Muschong’s story “Planning Your Visit to Dachau” was featured in Issue #4 of Newtown Literary. We interviewed him about his writing, and his answers are below. You can follow Justin on Twitter @JustinMuschong.
What is your relationship to Queens?
Queens is my adopted home. When I moved to New York in 2007, I landed on the Upper East Side. After bouncing around a couple of apartments, I was looking for a new place and followed a Craig’s List ad to Astoria. While I didn’t get that place, I immediately liked the neighborhood. It felt like a microcosm of New York itself. I focused my search there, eventually found an apartment, and have stayed ever since.
Though I love Astoria, I’m very conscious of it being one small part of a much bigger borough. When I get the opportunity to explore other parts of Queens, I find myself going into writer mode, trying to observe as much as I can and imagining what it might be like to live here or there. It gives me that bittersweet sensation of the world being too big for me to ever completely explore or understand it.
How would you describe the writing you do?
Very character focused. I’ll come up with a character or an institution and write with their voice, fine-tuning it as I go along. Maybe that’s why my work is often epistolary in nature. I also primarily write comedies, or try to. The work becomes much easier when I’m making myself laugh.
How did you come to writing?
I grew up reading a lot of books, watching a lot of movies and television. Pop culture and history were always big in my family – we’re all fairly good at trivia. In high school, I began to get the urge to write, that innate sense of “I should be writing.” When I was bored in class I would write short stories in my notebooks, usually rip-offs and pastiches of the Dean Koontz and Stephen King novels I liked to read. This continued into college, when I began branching into screenwriting and tried to find my own voice. That was my main focus for years, but more recently I’ve gone back to prose.
What inspires you?
Other people’s struggles and hardships. I’m fortunate to live a comfortable and privileged life that would be very boring for me to write about, and I assume very boring to read about. (Which is not to say I don’t try on occasion.) But when I read about what other people have gone through, and how it may or may not have informed who they became, I’ll think, “There’s a story there.” My writer’s vampirism comes out. I also enjoy history, how one era becomes another, so perhaps it’s transformation that ultimately inspires me.
I’m also inspired by random jokes and funny ideas. I think good notions often start off as jokes. “Hey, wouldn’t be funny if…?” And you can leave it at that, or you can think, “Well, if that happened, then this would happen. And then this would happen. Which would mean that, and this, and the other thing,” and so on until you’ve built your own little world.
What does it mean to be a writer in Queens?
Queens is a nexus, a vantage point into the past and the future and the world at large. There’s a lot to observe and be inspired by if you’re paying attention.
What writing project(s) are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on my first novel, a comedy about a beer company that I hope will be very stupid and funny.
And, finally, my favorite question: What should I be asking you that I didn’t?
Something random or silly, like “What’s your favorite subway line and why?” (Mine’s the 7 because it goes to many of my favorite places and other places I have yet to explore. It also seems like an underdog. The L gets all the attention, but I’ll take the 7 any day. Except when it’s shut down for maintenance.)
Readers, mark your calendars:
- Tickets are limited for the September 26 Poetry and Apple Picking excursion sponsored by Poetry and Coffee. Sign up now for some great Autumn inspiration!
- The Queens Young Authors and Poets Contest needs your support! QYAP is the biggest writing contest in the borough, inviting kids in grades 3 through 12 to submit poetry or prose. The winners get published in an upcoming issue of Newtown Literary. Between now and September 30, you can support the contest at our IndieGoGo page, where you can learn more about the contest and the great perks we have for donors!
- Will you be at the 2015 Comadres and Compadres Writers Conference on October 3 at The New School? If you are, be sure to look for our own founder, Tim Fredrick, as he leads a panel on getting published in mainstream literary journals.
- On October 4 at 5:00 p.m., come to the Astoria Bookshop for Poetry and Coffee’s discussion of Memorial: A Version of Homer’s Iliad by Alice Oswald. Tickets are free but required.
- Boundless Tales is accepting submissions for its current reading series! Submissions are considered on a rolling basis; the next reading will be October 8.
- Delve deep into your personal writing as Heightening Stories presents the Creative Nonfiction/Autobiographical Fiction workshop. Enrollment is open until November 4.
- Work on your development and revision skills! Heightening Stories presents the Community Writing Exercise Workshop. Enrollment is open until November 10.