By Paul Adams, Contributing Editor
Awst is glad to feature author Dan Bevacqua, and we'd like our readers to know a little more about him. We sat down to get his thoughts on literature, publishing, and his own writing process.
What are you reading right now?
I just finished reading Why Acting Matters by David Thomson, a film critic, and I am currently reading, rather slowly, because I end up reading every sentence twice, Veronica by Mary Gaitskill.
Do you enjoy Gaitskill's work?
Gaitskill is incredible. Devastating. The book is about a former model living in northern California. She recounts her friendship with a woman who died of AIDS in the ‘80’s. Gaitskill’s sentences are both dreamlike and precise; they click on a thousand levels and in the strangest ways. The novel is always simultaneously gruesome and beautiful.
Do you primarily read fiction or do you find yourself exploring other areas?
In terms of reading outside my genre, I read a lot of contemporary poetry. I like poets, actors, artists. I like feeling like an amateur among them.
An amateur in what way?
Meaning that I can admire and explore what they do with a different sort of judgment. With fiction, my eye is a bit more critical. I’ll think, ‘I see what he/she is doing. O.K. O.K. I’m stealing that.’ With poetry or acting or painting and etcetera, I still wonder: ‘How the hell did they do that? How is it possible that I am feeling this way?’ The mystery is intact, and I’m not huddled on my couch like a thief.
Speaking of recent fiction criticism, are there any recent books you think have been over-praised or under-appreciated?
There's a writer named Eugene Marten who hasn't gotten his due. Two of his books, In The Blind and Firework are incredible. In terms of over praise? I could list some, but then karma comes back, and gets you. I'll bite my tongue.
Fair enough. What do you find so affecting in Marten's work?
The sentences in In The Blind are simply visceral, like Marten cut them out of his body or something. Firework is different, the protagonist, certainly. The best way to describe the book would be to say: Firework understands all too clearly the well-intentioned psychopathy of a certain kind of white American.
You mentioned enjoying a lot of poetry; what author or collection would you recommend to readers who might not have much exposure to contemporary poets?
A good place to start would be In Defense of Nothing: Selected Poems, 1987-2011 by Peter Gizzi (published by Wesleyan University Press). Gizzi is one of the greats: brilliant, funny, prescient, as sensitive to the metaphysics of a hardwood floor as he is to the universe.
Going back to your other non-fiction reading, that book by Thomson sounded interesting. Are you writing about actors?
The Thomson was for research, yes. I've been writing a novel for more than six years now, the main character of which is an actress, and I try to read as much as I can about performance and Hollywood.
You've been doing a lot of research?
I just came back from L.A., actually, did a sort of pleasure/research trip, where I took notes the whole time, and harassed rather nice people into answering incredibly personal questions about their lives.
Since you're researching so extensively, you must feel that accuracy is important. Does the writer have an obligation to the subject matter in that respect?
I think a writer does owe something to the subject matter, in that she/he should capture how it "feels" and if the writer can do that, then the facts of whatever it is they are writing about can be augmented in order to fit the more natural flow of the narrative—or at least that's my hope.
What about to the reader?
Certainly a writer owes something to his/her reader: to see something as or more accurately than it has been seen before, or at least with a different pair of eyes.
You're working on a novel now, but in the past you've written shorter stories?
I've written a few shorter pieces that have been published, and I think those stories exist in part because the internet is a good medium for short prose, which, no matter what anybody says, takes less time to write, and of course read, than a novel.
What has it been like to move between those forms?
In terms of moving between short stories and the novel—the novel feels entirely different, almost physically so. It’s only my first (and I’m knocking on wood that I’ll write another) but I think with a novel you have to keep the whole thing moving, growing, echoing—keep it alive and feeling alive. Stories require much of that same care, but the scope is smaller; the intent is more apparent? I’ll spend three or four months on a story and it will only be twenty or so pages; that’s a double-edged luxury, all that time, all that paring down. I want the novel, conversely, to feel big.
Our last featured reader, David Olimpio, was very skeptical about the future of longer writing, and we frequently read about the 'death of the novel'. Is this premature?
The novel isn't dead. But if a newspaper or magazine says it is, then they sell copies. Novels are essential to life. They aren't going anywhere.
Novels are essential to life?
Yes. We need them. We forget we need them from time to time, but we instinctively crave the space and silence and unfolding only the novel can provide. TV can’t do that. Film can’t. Those mediums are too popular, and the internet strikes me as pure chaos. Literary novels, I think, confound because there’s no real money in writing them; they don’t make a twenty-first century type of sense, and yet we need them for that very same reason: to make human sense out of whatever the hell is going on.
Why do you think flash-fiction and very short stories have become so popular?
Flash fiction does lend itself to whatever irony might no longer define our age, and that may have something to do with its popularity. Shorter, or what might now be called flash, fiction has been around for a long time, however. In terms of its prevalence on the internet, it might be that to read something on a computer screen hurts one’s eyes, and so the shorter, the better.
Speaking of the possibilities of short fiction, I wanted to ask about the story But Where Do They Come From?, which you wrote for The Gigantic. Can you explain how this project worked?
Gigantic asked me to do that a few years ago as a part of the NYC Litcrawl. The assignment was to write a story in twenty-four hours, and then pass it along to another writer; they would then develop another, entirely different story based on the final line of the story sent to them, exquisite corpse style. It was a lot of fun.
How do you feel about literary experimentation more generally?
Honestly, I don't think about literary experiments that much. I think those writers who engage with them are drawn to those experiments by instinct, and my instincts don't normally go that way. But it was a lot of fun to be a part of something with Lynn Tillman, whose work I admire a great deal.
Are you very interested in that kind of collaborative writing?
I think there's always been a history of experimentation and "community" writing, and I'm happy to dip my toes in it now and then.
Speaking of communities and collaboration, how do you feel about the effect the internet has had on writers and literature?
I don’t know. The internet freaks me out. It’s so serious about how casual it is. It screams “Look at me!” and then you click on a bad link and you’re nowhere. How is that anything? You’re just sitting there for hours, staring at acquaintances. That’s an awful sort of loneliness to inflict upon an entire planet. It’s Revenge of the Nerds. But maybe I’m not giving it its due.
Not giving it its due how?
I think, overall, it’s a good thing for writing, the internet, right? There are countless writers who I've discovered online, and that's great. It's great too that you and I are conversing thousands of miles apart from one another, and the fact that Awst is publishing my work. I love all that, selfishly and unselfishly. I'm very happy and excited to be part of Awst as it starts to take off here.
Good to hear you're enthusiastic! What interested you in Awst Press?
It's a great idea: to be both an aggregator for older stories and a platform for new, as well as a small publisher via both e-pub and the old fashioned way. I love it and I love the idea and am grateful to be a part of it.
Thank you, and we're glad to be featuring you! Changing directions for a minute, I'd like to ask a little about your motivations. Is there something like family, region, or identity that informs your writing, or do you return to specific interests?
There are writers who are so good at answering that question. Who say, "Well, I write about where I'm from and try to get it right." And they do! They do it beautifully. I don't think I focus on region—but I wish I could. Some stories do take place in Vermont, where I’m mostly from, but I don’t think of that imaginative space as one that completely belongs to me. In terms of theme, I think a recurrent one is substance abuse and how that affects families. I hope that’s not my only theme, however.
Is that reflected in your characters?
I think, without intending to, I write about characters who perform certain behaviors, and who can adapt those behaviors depending on circumstances. That recurring theme and the effects of substance abuse in families are linked in ways that are pretty elemental to who I am.
How are those themes expressed in your novel?
I think alternate identities—who a person can be from one moment to the next—has always fascinated me, and probably fascinates anyone. The novel is about an actress, but has many other characters, some of whom pretend to be different versions of themselves, as we all do.
Then changing identities are important in all your work, including shorter pieces?
Even a story like "Security and Exchange" is about that in some way. In that story, a character wants to be different than who he is, performs that difference (knowing it’s a lie on some level) and consequences result.
Would you have any writerly advice for yourself when you were starting out; what do you wish you'd known before you sat down to write? What experience has been hard won?
I would probably tell my younger self, “Relax, there’s plenty of time. You should go to the beach, dude. Instead of writing, get a cushy job that pays a lot,” and my younger self would no doubt reply, “Shut up, man. You’re not even old. You have no idea what you’re talking about,” and he’d be right.
Paul Adams is an author and MFA student at Texas State University.