Who's Worth Loving?
Hardly anyone's worth loving, says novelist, but go love anyway.
Posted October 28, 2011
Go Love, a debut novel by Michael Gills, offers a fresh perspective on the struggle to love and to be worthy of love, the impossibility and the necessity of loving. Set mostly in Arkansas (where Gills grew up) and told in two voices, the plot gathers force as it moves toward a fraught family funeral.
Even those characters in Go Love who don't make good choices are treated with profound compassion by the author. The main male character's relationship to his mother, and to his daughter, in particular, are a jolt to the heart.
Gills won acclaim for his first collection of short fiction, Why I Lie, with University of Nevada Press, and his second, The Death of Bonnie and Clyde, is published by Texas Review Press. He's won a fellowship and a grant and earned a Ph.D., and he teaches at the Honors College at the University of Utah. Go Love is published by the delightfully named Raw Dog Screaming Press.
I could copy out the plot of this novel and not do it justice. Instead, here is my interview with Michael Gills:
THE Q & A
Q: You really focus in on the details of your story, Michael, so everything feels utterly real. How do you manage that?
Fred Chappell taught me that a writer must know what's going on in the seven directions at every given instant in the piece: above, below, in front, behind, on either side, and most importantly, within. Should one take this to heart, then the detail work is all done at any given moment. Flannery O'Connor drew the physical parameters of place, so imagine a charcoal sketch of that barn loft where Hulga Joy and Manley Pointer have their final encounter. The world is all there: the seven known directions, and the holy beyond.
Q: I see this as a literary novel, verging on the poetic at times, with some digressions and descriptions, reminiscences, that slow the hectic pace a bit. Did that style make it harder for you to get published?
I did not, and do not, write with publication in mind. That's a whole separate enterprise and not related to my craft. The book was written in one year of straight ahead writing in the predawn hours on an IBM Selectric typewriter, after I'd burned sage and prayed to whatever is that I might be opened up, and I was. For about a month, when a metal band broke inside the machine, I wrote by hand. I never looked back.
Though rough, that original manuscript has a vigor to it that amazes me even now, some fourteen drafts afterward. All those mornings before light, I wrote myself toward the truth, and got there. I had no care about whether or not it got published, and wasn't terribly bothered when agents turned it down flat. Nearly every chapter I ever sent out was snatched up at once. What a wild ride, writing that novel.
Q: How would you compare writing this novel with writing your many short stories? Do you have another novel in mind?
A short story, though often carried around in the head for a long time, takes a month or so for multiple drafts. A novel, on the other hand, is a much longer relationship, with room to search and wander and let what comes come—it is an act of faith from beginning to end. For both, it's crucial to keep on moving when the thing is done, not get hung up. I have a second novel, Emergency Instructions, three-quarters through (a chapter of which appears in the current Boulevard) and three more entirely laid out.
Q: Some of your novel's chapters have appeared in literary journals, as have many of your short stories. I know that expert advice says not to "hold anything back," but did you or do you find yourself using the same semi-autobiographical material more than once?
Richard Yates covered the same ground for his whole life, as has Fred Chappell, often translating the same material from poetry to short story to novel. We have these centrifugal hub experiences in our lives, and around them swirl connected all the rest.
REVISION & FLOW
Q: Do you do a lot of revising? Along the way, or the whole book over and over? Every one of your words appears to be quite carefully chosen. (Myself, I would revise to some extent after each batch of agent rejections. Each time it seemed "done." But then after a few months I could see how I might improve it.)
I revise when I move the typescript onto the computer. Then I revise the whole again and again, with my built in bullshit detector turned full on. Sometimes a given page or movement has to be right before I can move on, other times it's necessary to go full throttle ahead. For me, there's no one way. The piece chooses how.
Q: Do you enter a flow state when you write, sometimes at least? Any tricks to getting there, to the place where time seems to stop? Not easy to do with a job and a family.
As I've mentioned, I rise at 4:30 a.m., go outside and get on my knees in the snow or green grass or whatever here beneath the Watsatch Mountains, and pray to be opened up. Then I walk inside, turn on the typewriter and whatever happens happens. I teach my students this method, just as I was taught by my best mentors. At 4:30 in the morning, your inner censor—that part of you that says this is shit—is entirely turned off, so many mornings I finish up the day's writing just as the sun rises. How can you fuck up a day like that?
Copyright (c) 2011 by Susan K. Perry