Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Author Interview - Justin Kramon.

Like many bloggers, I get a ton of requests from authors. But it's not often that one catches my attention with their personable and intelligent demeanor even over e-mail.  Justin Kramon is one such author and he seemed to want to share, not just promote.  My gut didn't steer me wrong as is proven in this interview.  This is an author who gives a lot back to the writing community.

Q: Tell me a little bit about yourself.  Did you always want to be a writer or did you fall into it?

A: I wouldn't say I fell into it.  Falling into writing is probably a little like falling into a career in baroque furniture repair.  It's a pretty obscure, specific, and possibly outdated way to spend your time.  But I do love it, care about it, and hope that it sticks around as a way for people to express themselves.  I was pretty interested in music in high school, but at some point I realized I wasn't good enough to be a professional musician.  But there was something in music about expressing the things you can't say in everyday life, of tapping into things that might not even quite be sayable -- and I think writing and books do that, too, if in a different way.  They approach that core mystery of life.

Q. I see you graduated from the Iowa Writer's Workshops.  What was that like?  Can you recall a great piece of writing advice that helped you?

A: Iowa Writers' Workshop was great and awful.  Great because you're surrounded by smart and talented writers, and taught by writers whose books you love, but also frightening for people like me who get easily frightened.  I had a hard time writing there.  I had a hard time living there.  But I took a huge amount from the teachers and fellow students, which I was later able to use in my writing, once I'd settled into an environment where I was more at ease.  I'm hugely glad and grateful that I attended the program, and that I stuck it through and graduated from it.  I don't think I would be writing and publishing now if I hadn't gone there.  More than a piece of writing advice, I think one of the most valuable things I learned there was how to take writing seriously as a job, or even a lifestyle choice, as funny as that sounds.  I also learned to feel comfortable about the fact that I often don't like my own writing.  I realized that this was part of what it meant to take writing seriously.

Q: How did you get involved in teaching and also supporting writing groups?

A: Teaching was a natural.  There's not much else you can do professionally with an MFA degree.  While I was writing my first novel, I had a host of random jobs: bookstore clerk, bartender, lounge piano player, overnight supervisor in a homeless shelter.  My resume looked a little like a list of Quantum Leap episodes.  Once I started publishing a little bit, and I had some opportunities to teach fiction writing, it seemed like a great relief to be able to talk to other writers, and I got a lot out of sharing my interest in fiction with them.  It's a special experience to get to spend so much time talking about something you care about.  Then, after my first book came out, I realized that there was a lot of simple, practical information I wished I'd known about the publishing process.  So that led to the writing group visits, since I figured I could just share stuff that had been helpful for me in getting my book published.  It was a nice way to stay in touch with writers, and was something I could do even while I was touring for my first book, since I organized everything into a single class/seminar.  Once people saw how pale and awkward I am, they knew I was the real thing.

Q. Your new novel The Preservationist seems quite different from your first novel Finny.  Finny seems to be very lighthearted while The Preservationist looks pretty dark.  Can you tell us how these two novels came about?

A: That's a good point, and very true.  While I did think there was some darkness under the surface in Finny, this new book is a different kind of story.  Often, my ideas for books or even short stories come from things I'm reading.  With Finny, I was reading a lot of big coming-of-age adventures, mostly from the nineteenth century, and I wanted to retell those typically male adventures from the point of view of a young woman.  I just thought it would be interesting, and I loved all the larger-than-life characters, and the romance and adventure -- just that old-fashioned storytelling.  With The Preservationist, I was looking more at psychological thrillers I loved: Misery by Stephen King, The Talented Mr. Ripley by Patricia Highsmith, Felicia's Journey by William Trevor.  I love suspense novels, especially when they go deeply into the heads of the characters, both the victims and the criminals.  So my idea for this new book was to bring these stories into a modern college campus, and go back and forth between this small set of characters who are all involved in something dark, something that's leading toward violence, though at first it's not quite clear how.  In Finny and The Preservationist, the common thread is that I was reading books that somehow restored my love of reading, and I wanted to use that as a springboard into a story that felt personal and interesting to me.

Q. Now since we're in Halloween Hootennanny, tell me what you love about the season.

A: I love the way that Halloween stares diabetes in the face without blinking.  It's a bold holiday, irreverent.  It tosses FDA guidelines to the wind.  I think it takes guts to consume an amount of candy that would fill a kitchen trash bag.  I also feel very freed by the fact that I can wear whatever I want, and always have the excuse that it's "just a costume." Leotards, ascots, and leather chaps are not out of the question.

Q: What will you be doing for Halloween?

A: This year I'll be on book tour, which means that most likely I'll be crying myself to sleep in a Holiday Inn with an episode of The Golden Girls playing in the background.  I love to end an interview on an uplifting note!

Oh no!  There's no crying on Halloween!  I think if Justin would tell me his Halloween location, I bet I could find a few places for him to go and celebrate.  Thank you Justin for this eye opening and at times humorous interview.

Justin Kramon is the author of the novels Finny (Random House, 2010) and The Preservationist (Pegasus, 2013).  A graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop, he has published stories in Glimmer TrainStory QuarterlyBoulevardFenceTriQuarterlyAlaska Quarterly Review, and others. He has received honors from the Michener-Copernicus Society of America, Best American Short Stories, the Hawthornden International Writers' Fellowship, and the Bogliasco Foundation.  His website is www.justinkramon.com.  You can also find him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/justin.kramon.writer.


Anonymous said...

Pam, thank you so much for doing this interview. It was so nice to get to make an appearance on your wonderful blog.

Jessika Hoover said...

Great interview! Justin seems so genuine. I will definitely be checking out his books! Thanks for the interview.

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