I read this short excerpt from The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving and was immediately hooked: “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.” Here’s more from Jonathan Evison:
Jennifer Haupt: What was the starting point of your new novel?
Jonathan Evison: I wanted to write about irredeemable loss. I needed to write about it, actually. There are holes in our lives that can never be filled, and yet we have little choice but soldier on. I've done some emotional soldiering in my life, and I wanted to go back and deconstruct just how I survived these things, and how I managed remain hopeful in their wake. So, I did a lot of emotional dredging for this novel. I re-lived the freak accidental death of my sister, revisited the sudden and inexplicable dissolution of my first marriage. I forced myself to look long and hard at every parent's worst nightmare.
JH: Was there a time when you had something stripped from you that turned out to be the starting point or core of a story?
JE: I find that I need the fictive lens to write about stuff that's happened to me, good or bad. I need that degree of separation to really get in their and deconstruct it, and look for meaning. Most everything that happens to me in any significant sense, finds it's way into my fiction. In this case, I re-contextualized some of the aforementioned experiences so that I could see them from a different perspective.
JH: You said that you never wanted to write a “road trip” story, but that’s where these characters wanted to go. Did you try writing this story differently? How did you know your characters wanted to head to the Mojave Desert?
JE: I didn't want to write a road novel, it seemed too easy. But the damn characters lead me there. They needed the road to deliver them, and I suppose I needed it to deliver me, too. It doesn't really matter what I want to write once the characters have a life of their own. I'm not in the business of meddling with people's destinies--and yes, my characters are real people to me. They have histories and thoughts and yearnings and hurts and misgivings and pleasures that don't belong to me. I create a history, a set of physical characteristics, desires, idiosyncrasies, and then I set them free in the narrative landscape. Then they find their own way, I follow them, mostly. I try to learn from them.
JH: If you could go on a road trip anywhere to write a novel, where would you go? Alone or with other people?
JE: I'm going to Alaska with my family next week for research. I can't imagine it getting much better than that.
JH: How was this novel surprising in terms of how it evolved, and different than how you developed West of Here?
JE: To a large degree, this book was an act of voyeurism. West of Here required a little more authorial oversight, I guess. Both were rewarding, but writing The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving was nothing less than cathartic. This book renewed my flagging front lines of hopefulness, and it's my hope that it will do the same for readers.
JH: How has your writing life changed since the success of West of Here?
JE: A lot more travel means it's harder to carve out big chunks of writing time. But I manage. Usually, I just take it out of my sleep. So, if my novels stop making sense, blame it on sleep deprivation.
JH: What do you do to jump-start your creativity?
JE: Wake up at such an ungodly early hour that I have no choice but to work. If things are going well, my creativity has little to do with the process. It's more a matter of achieving and maintaining the focus to shed myself, and give all my focus and energy completely to the characters and their stories. It's really sort of a discipline, not unlike I would imagine yoga to be--though I couldn't say for sure, since I'm terrible at yoga.
JH: What’s the One True Thing you learned from going on a road trip with these characters?
JE: Ben's story served as a reminder that I must continue to drive on, and keep hope alive in the face of whatever adversity I face, and will continue to face as long as I live and breathe. It's not enough to endure. You've got to hope, Or Jack, you dead.
Jonathan Evison is the author of the New York Times bestselling novel West of Here and All About Lulu, which won the Washington State Book Award. In 2009, he was the recipient of a Richard Buckley Fellowship from the Christopher Isherwood Foundation. He lives on an island in western Washington.