Twenty Questions With Joe Schwartz

1) A Season without Rain is your first novel, how would you classify your writing style?

Transgressive fiction is what I’ve been calling it. I prefer to think of it as story telling for men. I hope to get guys reading again. Bartenders, mechanics, and cops are some of my biggest fans.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

I’ve worked more jobs than I can count. However, the story is based on a dark period of my life when I felt hopeless and deeply morbid regarding my future. When it was all over, years later, and I was now officially a writer it occurred to me I had lived one hell of a story. It was a wonderful thing to write about it knowing that my experiences could possibly offer hope to others.

3) In fifty words or less, what is the plot of your novel?

Jacob Miller is angry with himself, the world, and God. After having a nervous breakdown, selling his business, filing for bankruptcy, having a baby, and finding out he owes over twenty grand in taxes, he is hardly happy to be alive.

4) What inspired you to write this story?

Believe it or not, my kids. I’ve often told my friends that I don’t have much to offer my children in the way of an inheritance except when it comes to advice. I’ve been hustled by the best and have lived to tell about it. I figured this could be something I could share with them someday. Hopefully, they’ll read it and remember their old man loves them very much and once had to crawl through hell to save himself.

5) If you could tell other writers only one thing, what would it be?

Damn the cost, get an editor. Nobody likes a sloppily written book. It’s your name on the front cover not an editors’ so don’t be afraid to get second, even third opinions. Once it is in print there is no taking anything back.

6) Describe your protagonist Jacob Miller?

He’s in his early thirties and just becoming aware how hard life can be, that it isn’t fair not only for him, but for everybody. He no longer knows what is important and is simply going through the motions of living trying to numb himself through smoking weed. In a sense, he is hopeless and all but completely convinced that life is pointless. Jacob is looking for a miracle, but until he discovers how to forgive himself, nothing can save him.

7) There is no real defined antagonist in the novel although Jacob has so much to overcome. Who or what would     you say is his biggest obstacle to overcome?

Himself. All his problems are because of his tremendously poor choices. Although there are certainly are those who undeniably dislike, even loathe him, the only one who can solve Jacob’s problems is Jacob except he is scared to be vulnerable again after so thoroughly having his ass kicked by the world. Until he can find the courage to try again he will be caught in an infinite loop of regret.

8) This novel seems based on real events. Would you consider this an autobiographical fiction?

Only in the lightest sense. Hemingway said an author’s first novel would always be his most biographical work. Everyone’s life is interesting except to the person living it. I prefer to think of it more as a way that I took to heal after having to live through such a long and terrible nightmare. But those are the most interesting stories, that demand to be told, and which will make any of us stop to think because in a sense, we’ve all been there in the dark wondering how in the hell would the sun ever rise again.

9) Who is your favorite author?

Without a doubt, John Steinbeck. Of Mice and Men is the gold standard to me. I first read it when I was thirteen and I still remember how deeply his work touched me. I want to do that to others, draw them in to my private world, share it and affect readers viscerally on a deep, emotional level. I want my work, like Steinbeck’s, to be something more than casual entertainment.

10) Do you have a best time of day to write?

I used to prefer the early morning, like three or four a.m. That was back when I was recently sober and sleep was hard to come by. Nowadays I can write whenever. What I crave though is a quiet place with windows, a pot of fresh coffee, and a trusty Internet connection.

11) What do you hope readers get from this book?

Three things: 1) Things can always be worse. 2) There really is a God. 3) If you wait long enough anything can change.

12) Who are you’re biggest influences?

First and foremost, Steinbeck but a damn close second is Stephen King when he was writing using the pseudonym Richard Bachman. The Bachman books were something as a reader I’m yet to feel as urgent and compelling from any other writer. My two favorites being The Running Man and The Walk. Both are stories of an alternate dystopian society where reality television and horrible game shows have merged into desperate last-man-standing entertainment. They were damn near prophetic and I’m still in awe of them!

13) How do bad reviews affect you as an artist?

It is extraordinarily tempting to take them personal when you’re first starting out. Words can cut deeper than razors, but over time you must develop a thick skin simply to survive. When the bad reviews come, and they will, I take it with a grain of salt knowing I’ve done my best and not everybody is going to like you even if you win the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

14) As a writer do you have any rituals that either put you in the mood or help you think better when writing?

My favorite thing to do is actually the night before, just before I’m about to nod off, I start thinking about what I’m going to write in the morning. Especially when I’m feeling like I’m not sure of what happens next in the story. I start running all these scenarios, watching the characters, in the theatre of my mind as I put them through dozens of set ups. By the next day I’ve usually figured it out, but I don’t worry if the answer still hasn’t come. It will. It always does.

15) What do you hope to accomplish as a writer professionally as well as personally?

Professionally speaking, I want to make a living doing this stuff; making up stories and having people enjoy them enough to pay me to write them down. Personally, I want what I think all writers want, to write well every time I sit down to do it and always enjoy it while the process is happening to me, through me.

16) To date, what is your greatest accomplishment as a writer?

Everyday something new and wonderful happens to me as a writer. I remember seeing my first collection of short stories in print and thinking this is amazing. That is until a gleeful stranger told me after buying two copies from me at a book fair they were going to give the extra copy to a friend for Christmas. That is about as good as it gets.

17) Why did you start writing?

I used to be a musician. When that ended, I really didn’t know what the hell to do with my time so I thought I’d give writing a shot. A friend of mine had a website and I did music reviews for a while. That led to a few screenplays, which eventually led to my first attempts at the Great American Novel. The thing is I can’t remember ever not writing my own original stories down, if for no better reason than being bored and wanting to entertain myself.

18) In ten words or less, describe your writing style.

Visceral, dark, gritty, vulgar, funny, horrible, wonderful, impatient, and intelligently profane.

19) If trapped on a deserted island, what book could you read over and over until rescued?

That’s tougher than it sounds. On one hand I would say The Grapes of Wrath for its amazing use of description but then again there is The Stand, a story that seemingly goes on forever. Then again, you can’t go wrong with anything by the juggernaut Kurt Vonnegut.

20) How do you decide on a character’s name?

Weird as it sounds, they tell me their names. Either it comes to me in a flash as I’m describing them or as I’m writing dialogue they simply say it. When I try and force it the names never sound quite right. Then again, like Gertrude Stein said, a rose is a rose is a rose, or conversely like Hemingway once telegrammed the grand dame, a bitch is a bitch is a bitch.

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