What is your relationship to Queens?
I’ve lived here for eight years. After I graduated, I lived in Brooklyn for two years in a 60-square-foot half-bedroom that I suspect was previously used to house the dog (it was covered in claw marks). I paid almost as much there as I ended up paying for my studio in Astoria, where I live now. I’d love to live in Astoria forever if possible, but every time my lease is up, I get nervous. There’s an artisanal chicken-and-biscuits place here now, after all.
How would you describe the writing you do?
I work in publishing, but of the prescriptive non-fiction variety, so I’m fascinated by the different ways that writers can communicate information. Sometimes I find contemporary literary fiction frustrating. I tend to believe that stories should have a story, even if it isn’t fully told. I love comics, where story is inescapable, even if it’s abstract, like in a Michael DeForge comic. I tend to like magical realism because I think readers can be complacent and make lazy assumptions when you give them the standard tropes of literary fiction. I think in any kind of writing, a reader needs to, if not be surprised, then certainly to be knocked off-balance.
How did you come to writing?
I don’t think there was a time when I didn’t make up stories. I studied writing in college, too, but gravitated mostly toward language poetry and other stuff fixated on construction rather than expression. I just had a talk with a friend of mine about how sometimes we hide in abstraction to escape failure, and I think that was part of it. I interned at a poetry journal while I was in school, and I felt so much despair at what was coming in — it seemed like pointless reflection. Squirrels at the bird feeder in the morning kind of stuff. I wanted to write something like James Dickey’s “For the Last Wolverine” (“How much the timid poem needs / The mindless explosion of your rage”) but I never really got there. However I do think it made me a better writer of jacket copy for books about IBS and crystal divination, so that’s good.
What inspires you?
The New York Public Library is so amazing. I read all the time, and sometimes I read things that are very, very good. Recently I read Nights in the Gardens of Brooklyn by Harvey Swados and even though a lot of the stories aren’t great, the title story is. I like to read about what it was like to live in New York City at different points in time so that in theory I’ll have a more nuanced view of this place beyond “Well, artists used to live here and now they can’t because it’s too expensive.”
What does it mean to be a writer in Queens?
I think it’s exciting to be here now. In Brooklyn I felt like the rules were already written. There was already a hierarchy and a rhetoric and you can’t pick up a book without reading about some literary dude in Fort Greene or whatever. The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. made me want to die a million times. I hated it so much. People make the assumption that Queens is just going to become another Brooklyn, but I don’t think that’s true, chicken and biscuits notwithstanding. There were people here before me who are still here, living. I feel like people live here, and I like that, because I want to live here too.
What writing project(s) are you currently working on?
I’ve been reading a lot of diaries. I read The Journals of Spalding Gray and Anne Truitt’s diaries, and I’m Very Into You (which wasn’t a diary but an email correspondence between Kathy Acker and McKenzie Wark, but read like two diaries). Then The Folded Clock by Heidi Julavits. Then I read Josep Pla’s The Gray Notebook, which was his diary written in Barcelona in 1919-20. That one is really wonderful. So, during the summer my company offers half-days on Fridays, so I’ve been using those days to wander around and then write long diary entries. At the end of the summer I’m going to self-publish the ebook, which I’m going to call Summer Fridays. Then in the fall I might switch to Mondays, but I’m not sure.
And, finally, my favorite question: What should I be asking you that I didn’t?
I’d love to know the answer to “What’s the best book about Queens?” I haven’t read many!
Readers, mark your calendars:
- 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.