Beer, Books, Hot Dogs, & Duct-Taped Phones: The World of Jonathan Evison

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Jonathan Evison‘s irresistible debut tale of step-sibling obsession, All About Lulu, tap-danced between humor and melancholy whilst exploring family function and dysfunction from a fresh vantage point. The author’s much anticipated sophomore book, West of Here, is due out next fall. From his home base on Bainbridge Island, Washington, Evison — who’s one of the bloggers behind Three Guys One Book — caught up with Flavorpill via e-mail to share some early poetry, his ideal time travel destination, and a packing list for the next book tour.

Flavorpill: You’ve mentioned your father gave you Kurt Vonnegut’s Breakfast of Champions to read when you were just eight years old. What will you give your son to read when he turns eight?

Jonathan Evison: Probably Jack London — Call of the Wild. Or White Fang. Or To Build a Fire. Something that will get the damn kid outside, and out of my hair, so I can write.

FP: If we took Vonnegut’s idea of a karass, as laid out in Cat’s Cradle, and ran with it into real life, what would you say are the common threads linking members of your particular karass? Do you happen upon fellow karass members often or rarely?

JE: Beer, books, hot dogs, and cell phones with duct tape holding them together, mostly. And yes, I run with many of my tribe around campfires, in bars, in bookstores, and in forests.

FP: When did you begin writing and what sorts of things did you write when you were first starting out?

JE: I wrote a poem when I was three, it went like this:

Hello, hello Fire engines are red.

Things got much worse from there for about twenty years. I cringe to think of some of the beat-inspired poetry I wrote in my teens: “O’, the more I search, size, hypothesize, the farther lost I get in the muss-muddle fog of adolescentdom, etc, etc.” I was a regular Young Werther. It took me a long time to get good.

FP: Before publishing All About Lulu, you physically buried (& salted the earth!) several manuscripts, and you’ve mentioned you burn rejection letters. Do you think symbolic acts are important in life? In what other ways do you bring ritual into your day-to-day?

JE: Yes, I did bury two or three novels, and trust me when I assure you that it was no great loss to the literary world. They died with a whimper. As for ritualism in general, I’m a big proponent. My writing schedule is inflexible. I drink one-and-a-half cups of coffee every morning when I write. I use Pilot G-2 red pens for editing. I walk my dogs on the same four-mile loop every afternoon. I camp almost every single week, spring through fall, just me and my dogs and the white-hairs, with their big Winnebagos. I drink the same three beers, for the most part. And like Joey Ramone, I eat practically nothing but pizza.

My newest, and most favorite ritual of all, is that every evening I take a bath with my son. He’s fifteen. Just joking. He’s ten weeks, and I’m smitten, and we’re bath buddies.

FP: You live on Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound. For a writer, how do you think island life compares to life in a city such as LA or Seattle (both places you’ve also lived)?

JE: Bainbridge Island is a haven for writers. I swear, there’s at least thirty of us, from the Gutersons, to Carol Cassella, to Kathleen Alcala, to Patrick deWitt. I could go on all day. The community here really embraces local writers in a big way. We even have our own conference every spring. I live way the heck back in the woods at the end of the road. The UPS dude hates coming down my driveway. I can’t see my neighbors at all. I’m in Seattle once a week or so — in fact, I could be standing in downtown Seattle in forty-five minutes, so really, I’ve got the best of both worlds. Forty-five minutes the other direction, and I’m in the Olympic Mountains.

FP: Is the novel your preferred form to write in? Or would you like to try your hand at say a screenplay or a book of poetry?

JE: You ended your first sentence in a preposition- tsk tsk. I’ve actually written a half dozen screenplays and optioned a few that never came to anything — again, no great loss to the world. Though I’m a poet by temperament, I love big shaggy stories, so the novel suits me best. I’ve never been much of a miniaturist, so I don’t write short stories much.

FP: You’ve said your aim is to write “stories people can live inside.” What do you think are the keys in succeeding at this?

JE: Well, for me, this quite literally means living inside the story, really getting inside the skin of my characters. It all starts with empathy. My characters are real flesh and blood to me; I suffer and rejoice with them, I really feel their longing and anxiety and frustration. They become so real to me, that often they become willful, which can be a struggle.

In my daily life, I try to be a blotter, soak up anything and everything I can, listen to people really closely when they talk to me, just generally be awake to the world, so that when I try to manifest and distill the stuff of the real world into my fictive world, it will ring true.

FP: How did you get involved writing for Three Guys, One Book? It appears there are actually four guys writing for the blog now, as opposed to the original three. Are you guys considering a name change?

JE: As it turns out, All About Lulu was one of the first books Three Guys, One Book covered. I think they heard about me through my friend, the super-talented novelist James P. Othmer. Jason Rice and I struck up a friendship, and I soon became friends with Dennis Haritou and Jason Chambers, and after awhile, they asked me if I’d be interested in joining up with them. We’ll always be Three Guys even if there’s four of us. I like being the ambiguous fourth guy.

FP: Your upcoming novel, West of Here, takes place in 1889 then jumps to 2006. If you could either time travel to the past or to the future, which would you choose? What year, decade, or century would you go to?

JE: The past, for sure. Right now, my answer is the 19th century American northwest, because that’s the world my imagination has been steeped in the past few years, and I’d love to see how right I got it. But I think 9th century Spain under the Moors would’ve been cool — so many exciting intellectual developments, such a convergence of cultures.

FP: You brought Jello shots, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and Twinkies for audience members on the All About Lulu tour. What will you be carting with you for the West of Here readings?

JE: Just flour and bacon grease, maybe some jerked elk, some oilcloth, a mule, and plenty of whiskey.