Friday, May 5, 2017

Six Simple Questions With David Joy

One of my goals for when I started Story and Grit was to interview southern authors that have impacted the south with their stories. David Joy was gracious enough to agree to be the first author interviewed for our Six Simple Questions series.

I tried to give him questions that were unique and would maybe get some answers out of him that he’d not normally give. I don’t know if I succeeded in that but he exceeded my expectations. His answers are so thoughtful and honest that I couldn’t believe this would be an interview I would be publishing on my own site.

I owe David Joy a lot of gratitude and a six pack of beer.

Yall enjoy.

What compelled you to tell the story of The Weight Of This World?

I like that verb compelled because that’s exactly what it is: it’s a compulsion. In a lot of people’s minds you just sit down at a desk and say, Well, I’m going to write a novel today. That’s not how it works, or at least that’s not how it works for me. I always have some sort of image that comes into my head that won’t leave, an image that lingers around and haunts me, and that’s where the stories come from, from following that image out, from seeing who’s in the picture and trying to discern who they are and how they got there. With The Weight Of This World it was an image of two addicts at a house buying drugs. I knew they were buying dope from someone they’d known all their lives and I knew he’d been taking in stolen goods—firearms, televisions—as payment. The image I had was this guy dead on the floor having accidentally blown his brains out and these two addicts sitting there dumbstruck with a pile of drugs, money, and guns on the table in front of them. I didn’t know anything else about them really, but I had to jump in the car when they tore off out of there. I had to see where they were going. I never know where a story’s headed. I just blindly follow one page to the next.

What sort of research did you do for The Weight Of This World, and how long did you spend researching before you began writing?

I’m not a writer who does a lot of research. That’s just not the kind of stories I tell. That may change down the road, but with everything that’s come out so far, there hasn’t been very much research done at all. Sometimes I look things up to make sure the details are right. Ron Rash told me one time you have to get the details right in order for the reader to believe the big lie, and I think he’s right. That’s true for me when I’m reading. If the writer gets one thing wrong then it all falls apart. So I work to get those details right, but I don’t spend a great deal of time researching in the traditional sense. I think the kind of writer I am, I’m more like a sponge. I soak up everything around me, every detail, every conversation, and it all just forms this sort of collective memory and that’s really what I’m pulling from. I’m a lot more likely to be found in a bar than an archive.

If you could no longer write tomorrow, what would you do with your life?

Fish. I’m better at that anyways.

What’s the one book you wished you’d written and why?

There are a lot of novels that I think are damn near perfect—Cormac McCarthy’s Suttree, Daniel Woodrell’s Death Of Sweet Mister, Larry Brown’s Joe—but I don’t wish I’d written them. I wouldn’t want to live in a world where Woodrell didn’t write Death of Sweet Mister or Tomato Red. That’s where I’m rooted. I’m grateful and indebted to those writers. If I could mimic one writer on the page, though, it’d probably be James Galvin in The Meadow. That’s one of the most beautiful novels I’ve ever read. He’s a poet and so he carries that attention to language, that poet’s eye and ear, to the novel in a way that a lot of people can’t. I’ve always been interested in sound, the way words sound on a page, and with someone like Galvin there’s a music to his language that I want to find in my own.

What’s the best piece of advice you have for writers that they don’t want to hear?

No one ever wants to talk about talent. A lot of times it seems like successful writers are fearful of saying that word, of saying, I’m able to do something that most people will never be able to do. Only a handful of writers I’ve ever heard say that openly, Reed Farrell Coleman being one of them. Harry Crews said it as well. Crews said, “Your chances of being a renowned brain surgeon are better than your chances of being a renowned novelist.” He has that wonderful interview where he tells a story about being at a cocktail party and talking with this doctor and the doctor telling him that he’s going to write a novel. Crews said what he wanted to say was, “What if I was to show up at your operating room tomorrow and just come in and say, ‘No, no, just back off here. You’re doing an appendectomy here, right? Give me a smock and something sharp and I’ll just take it out for you’…And I’d sort of do the job on that guy on the table that he’d sort of do on the novel. The guy on the table would be dead and the novel would be dead.” I guess what I’m saying is that what a whole lot of people don’t want to hear is that not everyone’s a writer, and that’s okay. The world needs folks who can take your guts out and sew you back up just the same.

How do you see Southern fiction evolving in the coming years?

I wrote an essay for Signature Reads about this recently, about the evolution we’re witnessing in Southern fiction. I think what I love about the current state of the South is the diversity of our voices. My favorite novel I’ve read in the past few years was T. Geronimo Johnson’s Welcome to Braggsville, an absolutely brilliant look into race in the South and how that plays out on a national stage. One of the best anthologies I’ve come across in ages was The Queer South, edited by a writer named Douglas Ray. It had some big names like Dorothy Allison, whose Bastard Out of Carolina should’ve long been on everyone’s bookshelf, but it also had a lot of new voices, people I’d never heard of, and that’s incredibly promising. I think we’re witnessing a dismantling of the old tropes, of the old grandmaw-in-a-rocking-chair, magnolia-blossoms-and-bourbon bullshit that has clich├ęd this region into absurdity. All of that is being ripped apart quickly by incredible new voices and that’s an absolutely beautiful thing.

Check out David Joy's latest novel The Weight of This World. You can buy it at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Indie Bound
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