Interview with J.A. Tyler
J. A. Tyler is the author, most recently, of Inconceivable Wilson (scrambler books,
2009)and Sinatra (vox press, 2010). His work has appeared recently with Diagram,
Sleepingfish, Caketrain, Fairy Tale Review, elimae, & Action, Yes among
others. He is also founding editor of mud luscious press.
Even in sleep, seeking. I seek. I have sought and found. I find. I am finding out. Learning. I learn.
Did the repetitive and active textures you employ (i.e., go, going, gone) precede the writing, or did they emerge during the composition?
Tyler: This is, I think, a little of column A, a little of column B. I have always been very influenced by repetition, by the way we can make and break and wreck and reconstruct patterns with words, so Inconceivable Wilson automatically included those notions of texture, layering, rhythmic repetition from the beginning. The constancy of it though, and the way it often plays with tense shifting and the ideas of time and language consumption happened during the writing process, when I was starting to understand the novel(la) a bit better.
Fallon: This groping repetition is very characteristic of the voice. I really like how the idea of a symphonic narrative is set forward in the opening paragraph:
I write and what I conduct is words. The words I use are the words I use over and over: Go, go, go.
How did you sustain this voice throughout the time you were writing the novella? How easy or difficult is it to slip back into the rhythm of that voice on a day by day basis?
Tyler: When I am amidst a full-length project, which is almost always, I write on it as much as I can every single day, so maintaining a voice that has already been established in the opening is not typically too rough a task for me. And if ever there is a sticking point or a pause in how the voice is working, I return to the opening lines, the opening pages, and give myself a reminder of where the work started, and how it has evolved / is evolving. Sometimes the bigger difficulty is actually letting go of the voice for the next project, and it is torture asking myself to refrain from writing so that the previous voice can dissipate and a new one can come to the page.
Fallon: In particular, I admire the way sentences terminate with a word that then rises again immediately in the next sentence. It's like the narrative is falling down and standing back up:
The world become a monologue, single voice spinning syllables and noise. Noise. Then nothing. There is the place and the tendency toward nothing, the absolute of loss, no more. No more her voice.
Is this a deliberate effect, something you brought to the text, or is it something that comes organically with the rhythm of the voice?
Tyler: I do not consciously think about the lengths of sentences or the variation in their structures; I do, however, have a certain organic rhythm of how the words hit the keys, and that more than anything plays out in Inconceivable Wilson -- the rise and fall, the short and long, the percussive rhythm, it is my own silent kind of conducting, when I close my eyes and write.
Fallon: Can you talk about how you came to the form of this novella, the single paragraphs each given an entire page?
Tyler: In my mind, it was a combination of three things: first, I wanted the white space, the text flashes on each page to be surrounded in what has disappeared, what has dissipated. Second, I had an unwritten kind of bond with the text, a demand that I would focus on the writing as journal entries but without the concrete stipulates of dating or audience address -- a more organic version of that form of writing. Third, I wanted the text more than anything to be consumed as Wilson is, appearing as more and less with each page turn, rather than laid out in full at any time.
Fallon: Chronologically, the narrative is non-linear, at times a linear sequence seems to emerge but then is soon undermined. How did the organization of these separate pieces come about, how did you decide on the order of events?
Tyler: The order of the book is actually the order in which I wrote it, no changes, no adjustments. Each time I sat down to write a new segment I took it on faith and started new -- back at the beginning or in the middle of Wilson being consumed or at the end, in his demise, or anywhere else. For the most part I didn't look back at previous sections but instead tried only to look ahead, to what I hadn't said yet, to what I hadn't written. I reject linear narrative, though I believe it finds its way in regardless.
Fallon: Did you revise at the line level, or do you find that you get where you want to be in the original composition?
Tyler: Most times I come close to where I want to be with the original, but I always return for at least one more revision at the line level (sometimes two) and at least one final read-aloud before I am committed to the draft -- this usually happens in increments, 1000 words or less at a time, so I rarely do line level edits for an entire book-length at once.
Fallon: How did you conceive an inconceivable character? How did this idea of a consuming observer come to you?
Tyler: I am a teacher and some of the best and strangest phrases I have ever heard come from students: during a mad-lib type assignment a student put the descriptor 'inconceivable' in front of the name 'Wilson' and I couldn't stop repeating that phrase to myself, thinking about what it would mean to be inconceivable, wondering if a character could be inconceivable -- and the more I thought about this the more the idea of consumption became the heart of the text. I worked from that point on to consume the reader, the language, and Wilson all at once.
Fallon: Wilson departs for an unnamed community where he is welcomed in a most intimate way: he becomes part of their soup, his parts provide their utensils. I wondered if you could address the way Wilson interacts with this consuming community.
Tyler: Wilson is trying to learn, and the more he extends himself into their shadows the more he is taken away, as happens when our obsessions become our only ways in which to breathe -- plus, though Wilson believes he is going to document and to observe, he is in reality there to capture and cage and draw lines around this community, at which the culture he invades responds by invading him, taking the world out of his body in the most literal way.
Fallon: Are there any books that were influential to the writing of Inconceivable Wilson? Seems like it has its affinities with Heart of Darkness?
Tyler: Though I have read Heart of Darkness a few times and can see its connections with Inconceivable Wilson, it was not on my mind at any point during the construction of this book. Instead, what really influenced me on a daily basis was Go, Dog, Go! by P. D. Eastman, those basic repetition is a tool for teaching language and was the object of my deconstruction, the thing I was working to un-structure in the book as a whole.
Fallon: You are a prolific writer and editor, publishing dozens of your own pieces in addition to the many titles put out by Mud Luscious Press. Add to that a full-time job, a wife and child, and I wonder how do you find the time to be so productive?
Tyler: Honestly, I don't know. People often ask me that, and I don't have a clear answer. I do sleep and play with my son and sit down to dinner with my family and do the work that is required of my regular job and all of my outside press obligations. Perhaps the only difference for me is that when I sit to write I don't censor and I don't think and I don't stop -- I write as it comes out and really what I am doing feels more like capturing language rather than consciously shaping it -- letting the writing happen to me instead of forcing its character.
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