Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Keep him in a corner

Because when Jonathan Evison sits still, great stories come out

Express Staff Writer

Jonathan Evisonís book has drawn comparisons to a variety of authors, most notably J.D. Salinger, John Irving and Charles Dickens. Courtesy photo

Jonathan Evison was straddling the line between a kid being recommended for detention and medication when his third-grade teacher opted to try sticking the peripatetic and impulsive young man in a corner with a pen and paper.
Thanks to Mrs. Hanford, readers are treated to a writer drawing comparison to Mark Twain, J.D. Salinger, Charles Dickens and John Irving, and with a conscience to support other writers, even if he still lacks complete cohesion in his personal life.
    And despite having novels “West of Here” and “All About Lulu” still networking for him, Evison prefers to seal devotion with his colorful presentations and through literary dot-com work on the site Three Guys One Book and as executive editor of The Nervous Breakdown, where he curates a national book club.
    He is talented and tenacious—six unpublished novels preceded “Lulu.” His day jobs as a laborer, caregiver, bartender, telemarketer, car salesman and even frontman for a Seattle punk band kept him in interesting company. He now lives on Bainbridge Island, Wash., married to Lauren Williams and father to Owen and Emma.
    On Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 6 p.m. Evison will celebrate the release of his latest book, “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving,” in paperback. He will be with Iconoclast Books at The Community Library in Ketchum to talk about being a winner at being a loser and a bestselling writer twice nominated by the American Book Association as Most Engaging Author.
    Evison is a guy for whom beer goes hand in hand with most things, and that babies (twice at least) have resulted from his passion for it. Pictured on Facebook with his youngest Emma squirming gleefully from a Baby Bjorn, he proves you’re never too young to start caving as long as a helmet can be secured.
    Grab your helmet and tunnel in with him.

IME: A compliment on “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” from The News York Times’ Janet Maslin: “This author has really got a way with losers.” Don’t lie now, is this a case of “It takes one to know one”?
    JE: Oh yeah, I’ve done my share of losing. And I’m grateful for every last defeat. Ten years ago, I was a guy with eight unpublished books, working at my buddy’s ice cream stand—that is, until he fired me. Then my wife left me for a surfing Buddhist. Soon after, I began stalking a trapeze artist (in a friendly way). So, yeah, I was on a real roll there for a while. But, you know, I kept my chin up. The work is always there to save me.

“Listen to me: everything you think you know, every relationship you’ve ever taken for granted, every plan or possibility you’ve ever hatched, every conceit or endeavor you’ve ever concocted, can be stripped from you in an instant. Sooner or later, it will happen. So prepare yourself. Be ready not to be ready. Be ready to be brought to your knees and beaten to dust. Because no stable foundation, no act of will, no force of cautious habit will save you from this fact: Nothing is Indestructible.”

Where do you begin when you begin a novel?
    I begin with character more often than not. Sometimes, as in “West of Here,” the character is a whole town. Sometimes it begins with a character’s voice, as in “All About Lulu,” where Will just starts talking and he won’t shut up until the book is finished. My characters ultimately write themselves and lead me to their destiny. They yearn, they struggle, they find something, or more likely, lose something, but they keep inching their way toward reinvention. I’m mostly just there to throw obstacles in their path, and toss Miracle Grow on their character defects.

If Daffy Duck was/is your first role model, who is/was second?
    I never really had a proper role model besides Daffy Duck. My mom would probably argue that’s the root of all my problems. In my late teens, I idolized the writer John Fante. Probably not a good role model. The fear and arrogance of Arturo Bandini pretty much sealed my fate as a hopelessly young alcoholic misfit.

At what point did you stop telling funny stories and start writing them, or has that always been your style?
    I started writing seriously in third grade. A lot of stuff, including my sister’s death, and my parents’ crumbling marriage, made for a rough patch around then. Also, my mania was practically off the charts. I ran my teachers ragged. My third-grade teacher, Mrs. Hanford, god love her, recognized that I liked to write, so she finally started sitting me in a corner and just letting me write, and in doing so, accomplished two things: She negated a huge distraction for the rest of the class, and she made a writer out of me.

Other writers—peer support or just keeping enemies close?
    I’m a big believer in support systems. I’ve had the benefit of some wonderful support along my way, and in turn, I try to do everything in my power to contribute to the overall health of the literary ecosystem. As a result, I’m hopelessly over-committed at all times. But as far as I’m concerned, that responsibility comes with the territory. I wanna punch people who get to the top of the mountain and pull the rope up, people who treat other artists as competitors, who want to mystify and hoard their success. It’s kind of a sad little mountain, anyway.

Any interest in a memoir? What would the title be?
    Nah, no interest in a memoir. As grateful as I am for the eventful and dead sexy life I’ve led, I’d get bored committing it to paper. I write to discover and expand, and I just don’t feel like I’ve left too many stones unturned along my path, you know? Besides, I can’t resist hyperbole, so the thing would be full of half-truths, if not scandalous lies. For starters, I’d make myself smarter and better looking in my memoir.

What’s next?
    I just finished a novel called “Harriet Chance,” about an 87-year-old woman who goes on an Alaskan cruise with her dead husband. Yes, I said dead husband. Also, I’m working on another novel called “The Dreamlife of Huntington Sales” (a title I’m sure they’re gonna just love over in marketing and publicity!), which is still a bit of a mess, but in a good way, I think. It’s about commercial logging and schizophrenia and global conspiracy and country music. See what I mean?    

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