- a writer of literary magical realism, who teaches theater and reads voraciously
Readers, thanks for checking out another Author Spotlight Interview. Let’s give a good, hearty welcome to this week’s guest!
J. A. Tyler is the author of The Zoo, a Going and Only and Ever This (both from Dzanc Books). His fiction has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Diagram, Black Warrior Review, Fairy Tale Review, and The Brooklyn Rail among others.
He has given workshops and readings at universities and writing conferences around the U.S., including AWP, Lake Forest’s &Now series, the National Writing Project at Colorado State University, and the Bankhead Visiting Writers Series at the University of Alabama.
He lives in Colorado.
J.A., thanks for agreeing to be here today. Most author spotlight interviews start off with the boring stuff, but I know what readers REALLY want to know.
If you could have any pet (real/fantasy/no-allergies/no worries about feeding it) what would it be?
A bear. Wouldn’t it be sweet to just have a huge bear in your house? Like a living loveseat, lumbering around while you make dinner. Awesome.
I’m having flashbacks to ‘Snow White, Rose Red’, and it worked out for them!
What do you write? And how did you get started?
My work is almost always surreal and often layered with magical realism. I love the unexpected when I read, a story that kicks your imagination into high gear from the first sentence, so that’s what I try to write.
I’m not sure when I started, only that I was young, elementary age, and writing (and poorly illustrating) mock Choose-Your-Own-Adventure books.
I do love the unexpected when it’s done just right!
What do you like to read?
I’ll read anything, for real. Any given month I’m reading graphic novels, poetry, non-fiction, memoir, short stories, plays, and novels. In terms of genre, my favorite work is anything I’ve never seen before, no matter the style.
Reading broadly is supposed to be good for writers. I love a new book, but I have to admit, re-reads are comfort reads for me.
Do you snack when you write/edit? What are your favorites?
I don’t snack when I write, unless coffee counts. Does coffee count? I drink loads of coffee. My favorite is hazelnut with oat milk and a little sugar.
While not a coffee drinker myself, I have to admit to having a soft spot for the smell of hazelnut coffee!
Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice that doesn’t work for you
Write every day.
I want to write every day, but I have kids. I have a spouse. I have a job. Sometimes my car breaks down. Sometimes our dog is sick. People who say write every day no matter what, are doing something I can’t. BUT: That doesn’t mean I’m not working on my writing every day. You don’t have to touch pen to paper (or fingers to keys) to work on your words.
Every writer has to do what works for them — in their life. As long as you make your writing a priority and get to it consistently, you’re fine. I don’t think ‘every day’ is realistic for a lot of writers.
Name one commonly accepted piece of writing advice they can pry out of your cold, dead hands
Write what you know.
For a surreal/magical realism writer like myself, this might seem counterintuitive, but realistically everything in Only and Ever This comes from what I know. It’s not that I know vampires, it’s just that the desire to live forever is a part of me somehow. And I’ve never mummified anything, but I know how it feels to want to pause a life, to hold it, and not let it leave us. Do I know ghosts? No, but I know how it is to feel invisible some days. What we write is who we are, even if it’s deep down (and we don’t want to admit it).
I agree one-hundred percent! Writing what you know means adding your view on the human experience to your stories. It doesn’t mean to only write about things you have personal experience with — unless it’s a memoir!
What do you drink when you write/edit?
Again: Coffee. Did I mention it’s decaf? It’s decaf. Caffeine would send me spinning like a top.
Ha! I’ve definitely gotten more caffeine sensitive as I’ve gotten older, so I get that.
Shameless Self-Promotion time!
Only and Ever This
An intense, surreal story of family and growing up, perfect for fans of Matt Bell and The Immortalists.
A mother clings to twin sons, desperate to keep them from becoming their father, a pirate forever sailing away. In this rain-soaked township, she will attempt to mummify them, piece by piece, to stop them from growing up, a hope founded in magic and immortality.
Meanwhile, their father obsesses the seas with his own belief in ever-lasting life, learning too late that his heart belongs on shore.
In Only and Ever This, a family must endure father loss, a mother’s grief, and roiling adolescence, slipping as it does into arcades, caves, and the young love for a ghostly girl up the street.
The Zoo, a Going
In this book, the commonplace act of a family visiting the zoo becomes a window through which a child contemplates the breakdown of relationships, the loss of a brother he never knew, and the struggle of a father back from an incomprehensible war.
As they travel from cage to cage, Jonah sees himself and his mother and father through the lens of the animals, hovering on the terrible edge of adulthood. At once prose and poetry, The Zoo, a Going tackles the complexities of growing up, of maturing.
It is a novel about the power of words, both those uttered and those left unsaid.