Interview with Jonathan Evison, Author of West of Here

Doing what it takes to live the dream.

Posted Mar 31, 2011

Jonathan Evison's funny and touching novel West of Here intertwines the stories of a web of quirky characters with the saga of the growth and decline of the mythical town of Port Bonita. This is Evison's second published novel, but he wrote six others and too many unwanted short stories to count during twenty years of practice. He earned a living doing "virtually every conceivable menial job you can think of" and is still drawing on all of those experiences. And he'd do it all again. Here's more:

Jennifer Haupt: Where did you find Port Bonita, the wilderness town pioneered in West of Here?

Jonathan Evison: Port Bonita was inspired by the town of Port Angeles, the gateway to the Olympic wilderness. I spend a lot of time out there. It's an inspiring place, dripping with history.

JH: How long did it take to write this epic novel?

JE: The better part of four years, when you include the eighteen months of research.

JH: You wrote six novels during the 20 years before All About Lulu was sold. How did you keep the faith during this time?

JE: I was never much daunted by my failure to publish, because it's always been about the work itself, the act of writing. It's something I have to do, or I'll spin out of control. So, I guess my faith is in the work. I just licked a lot of envelopes as a matter of due diligence, and figured eventually somebody would champion my work. Or not. It's fantastic to have a readership, and feed my family, don't get me wrong, but it will always be secondary to the work itself.

JH: Tell me something people might find surprising/bizarre about your writing life?

JE: I usually write in my underwear, with a space heater running full blast, and three dogs sleeping at me feet.

JH: In your teens you were the founder and front man of a band called "March of Crimes," which included future members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden. Do you still sing in public? How, if at all, is writing fiction like performing music?

JE: First, let's get something straight: I never sang. Mostly, I just yelled into the microphone, and acted like a smartass on stage. The punk rock ethos is still with me, though. I'm a DIY kinda' guy.

JH: Your third (published) novel will be released in 2012. Can you give us a preview?

JE: It's called The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving, it's a coming-of-middle-age about a male nurse in crisis. I'd characterize it as a novel of the heart. I think it is the funniest and most emotionally evocative novel I've written. If West of Here is a big web of a narrative, I'd say TRFoCg is an onion.

JH: What's the one true thing you've learned from finally garnering critical success for something you've loved doing for little or no pay for more than 20 years?

JE: That I wouldn't trade those 20 years for anything. I've been living the dream all along. I love being a struggling artist, it makes me feel very alive. Sometimes I actually miss eating pot pies and rolling up change to buy beer. It doesn't get simpler than that. But it's a tough way to raise a family.

Jonathan Evison is the author of "All About Lulu," and "West of Here". In 2009, he won the Washington State Book Award, and in 2010, he was awarded a Richard Buckley Fellowship from the Christopher Isherwood Foundation. His third novel, "The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving" will be released in 2012.