Sasha Fletcher's novella WHEN ALL OUR DAYS ARE NUMBERED MARCHING BANDS WILL FILL THE STREETS AND WE WILL NOT HEAR THEM BECAUSE WE WILL BE UPSTAIRS IN THE CLOUDS is out now from ml press. He is an MFA candidate in Poetry at Columbia University in the city of New York.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
So far I honestly have no idea. I check goodreads a little more compulsively and wait for google alerts.
In actuality, the novella is the second book I finished. The first is a book of linked prose poems that was a finalist for octopus. I feel like the novella occupies a space between the first book and whatever book these poems I'm working on now become.
The novella was me trying to push the form more. Writing fragments that sort of went together was one thing, but I wanted to see if I could build something larger page by page.
The new poems are generally much longer than I used to write. The prose poems are all about 1.5-2 pages [where they used to average around 120 words or so] and I'm using line breaks, which I usually never did. In terms of actually talking about the work, I think a lot of it involved trying to raise the stakes, and to push things. There's still a lot of familiar stuff. The sky crashes down, bones get up and walk out of your body, there are birds, there are notes coming from unknown places saying things very loudly and lots of things get set on fire. There's still a lot of domesticity. There are boats. There is drowning. But I feel like I'm doing all these things in a different way right now.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
Well I came to fiction first because I hated poetry, then I quit fiction because poetry was a thing I could actually do [in that for years I could start stories and never manage to care enough to finish them, and suddenly when I started writing poems I could care enough to finish them].
3 - How long does it take to start any particular writing project? Does your writing initially come quickly, or is it a slow process? Do first drafts appear looking close to their final shape, or does your work come out of copious notes?
It really depends. The novella ended up being written in about six weeks. Then it went through five rounds of final edits over about a month. The book of poems I have took two years. I have absolutely no idea how long this current book will take, but either way I need to turn in a version of it next August to graduate.
The writing tends to come quickly some of the time, but a lot of it is crap. If it's not actually crap it may just be that it sounds crap, as the sound and rhythm of a piece tend to be as important as what's being said. We are saying that how a thing is said and what is being said should generally be reflective of the other.
I have a few pieces that came out as-is. Aside from a few adjustments for rhythm or word-choice, they just fell right out of me. I have a bunch of poems right now, some of which I've been working on since October, but all of them have these brackets where important parts are missing and unwritten. Sometimes the brackets are full of notes and plans. Sometimes I need to hold the idea in my head and go over how to deal with it. Other times the solution just appears.
I guess I am saying it varies, but that I work a lot and sometimes that gets me somewhere.
4 - Where does fiction usually begin for you? Are you an author of short pieces that end up combining into a larger project, or are you working on a "book" from the very beginning?
It completely depends. With the book of poems, I set out to try to write a ten poem chapbook where all the poems went together and functioned as a body of work. I wanted to create a body of work. I started that in June 2008 and I think by that October I'd titled the book and started sequencing it and from there on everything was written in a big old .doc with EVERYTHING HERE IS OK in 72 pt Times New Roman on the first page.
With the novella, I'd written three longer prose pieces that I had no idea if they were poems of fiction and no idea what to do with them in a larger context, but they were all written one after another and in the same voice. J.A. Tyler had seen the poetry book and said he would be interested if I had a novella. So I sat down, wrote those three pieces together and then went from there.
Recently I've been freaking out a bit about this whole writing another book thing. Generally after three or four months I can figure out the direction of the work and sit down and just focus on the book. But I've been trying so hard to just to write really good poems that I haven't thought at all about how they'll go together. Reading over them recently I know they will. Some of them will. They all fit somehow. But I don't know how. I've been working on whatever these poems are since August 2009. Most of them are in completely different forms. But I guess, to answer it, I generally am trying to work on a book from near the beginning, or at least with one in mind, and right now I'm not, and it's been weird. I am just now, in the last two weeks, becoming really OK with not knowing everything in advance, or having some over-arching plan for things.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I love reading out loud and it is a very big part of figuring out if a thing is working or not.
6 - Do you have any theoretical concerns behind your writing? What kinds of questions are you trying to answer with your work? What do you even think the current questions are?
I don't know. I am, personally, not a very big fan of theory or theoretical concerns. On the other hand, in terms of questions, I can talk about concerns I used to have, and then why I don't bother as much with them anymore. So. 1) I used to be really concerned with the idea of dealing with the fantastic and absurd, what is generally regarded as the surreal, in an everyday sort of way. It seemed really important to me that when bringing in these elements they were described exactly how the voice in the piece would describe brushing their teeth or filling out taxes or sitting on the bus to work. That nothing ever, in my mind, succeeded by calling attention to itself, but by sneaking in unannounced. Once I got OK at doing that, I decided to then work on more fantastic pieces that folded in elements of the everyday, and then tried write with the two encroaching on each other.
I think the novella was actually a pretty good synthesis of that, of having everything just there together, seeming like it all belongs. At least to me.
But so 2) I've found with my current work that maybe these questions would be helpful to start posing again, but that my genuine fear of models such as that are that they promote laziness. That by having a question to answer, rather than having to just make it all up and hold it all together, that you might not allow the piece to move how it needs to. That you'll limit it. And that you might not worry about anything other than your concerns. I find that idea terrifying. I am very much afraid of being lazy in my writing. I think it's safe to say that I sometimes have a problem with not cleaning the house enough and cluttering up my desk and I am wary of things I guess.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Does s/he even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
I have no idea.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
It completely depends on the editor. At this point my girlfriend edits everything, and she is really good at it. I think what you need in an editor is someone who is willing to see the work only for what it is trying to do [as opposed to what they would do] and who can see the ways in which to help you do it better. It's hard. Most of us want to talk about how we'd do it or would like to see it done, but that isn't a thing that's helpful, because it's about our vision and not theirs. Any single person that can look at what you have done, see what it is trying to do, and help you to do that better, any single person that can do that is probably the best fucking person you will ever meet.
Which also doesn't mean, I think, that you should ever be at a point where you need someone else in order to tell if your work is good or not. Or maybe. I want to take that back. I think whatever helps you to write better is whatever helps you to write better and writing better is a very good thing. That is what I think.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
10 - What kind of writing routine do you tend to keep, or do you even have one? How does a typical day (for you) begin?
I get up, I check my email, I have a shower, I make some breakfast, I dick around on the internet, I eat some lunch, I do some reading, I go for a walk, I read over what I'm working on, I read over it some more, I sit and think, I do some writing, I eat some dinner, I write some more, I go to bed, I maybe have sex.
During the semester is a bit different. Last semester I was turning in two assignment based poems a week. So I was doing that and also trying to do my own work and doing the readings for class and also reading the things that I thought would help me, so I am sort of taking it a little easier right now.
11 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I read. I go for a walk. I watch TV. I take in a movie. I bother my girlfriend. I call my dad. I put it away. I give it some space. I get a little mad. I try harder not to.
12 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
Clean laundry. Dryer Sheets.
13 - David W. McFadden once said that books come from books, but are there any other forms that influence your work, whether nature, music, science or visual art?
Yes. I listen to music constantly when I work, with the intention of having the tone of the music dictate the tone of the work. I have shit tons of mixes titled after pieces or after sections of books.
The film You, The Living by Roy Anderrson probably had more of an effect on me and my work and how I think and process information than anything else.
I still sometimes draw and I find it helpful to get me thinking about things in different ways. About depiction in different ways.
I spent a bit doing poems based on things I saw in Marcel Dzama Drawings. I think about how Jasper Johns does things a lot and how I can try to do that. I spend a lot of time sitting and looking at the sky. Often from one side of a window.
14 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Right now: Josh Bell, Richard Siken, Emily Pettit, Rachel B Glaser, Objects for a Fog Death by Julie Doxsee, Bob Hicok, Ken Sparling, Ben Mirov.
In general: Donald Barthelme, The Battlefield Where the Moon Says I Love You by Frank Stanford, Frank O'Hara, David Berman, Amy Hempel, Zachary Schomburg, Padgett Powell, James Tate and David Foster Wallace.
15 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Sell more books? Get a teaching gig? Get married? Buy a house? Have some kids?
16 - If you could pick any other occupation to attempt, what would it be? Or, alternately, what do you think you would have ended up doing had you not been a writer?
I really liked gutting fish. It was a good job. Alternately, I have no idea. I try real hard to worry mostly about the things I can actually deal with. That other shit just keeps me up at night and I like sleeping when I can.
17 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I knew how to do two things moderately well. Draw and Write. When it came down to the jobs I could get with a BFA in Ceramics and the time that would be involved with getting better at something, I ended up picking the one that cost less to do.
18 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
I just finished Pee on Water by Rachel B Glaser and it is incredible. I saw Micmacs the other week and that was pretty awesome. Before that I saw Altman's The Long Goodbye and I really really loved that.
19 - What are you currently working on?
A bunch of poems that will be a book of poems. A lot of them have to do with the end of the world. As like a regular occurrence. Or something like that. Floods, the sky falling, various things being set on fire, people having trouble sleeping and making up stories to pass the time, rivers doing things they wouldn't normally do, like pretending to be kids, or being ominous. Stuff like that.
12 or 20 (small press) questions;