Adam McOmber is the author of My House Gathers Desires (BOA Editions 2017), The White Forest (Touchstone 2012) and This New & Poisonous Air (BOA Editions 2011). His work has appeared recently in Conjunctions, Kenyon Review and Fairy Tale Review. He lives and teaches in Los Angeles.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
My first book, a collection of queer speculative stories called This New & Poisonous Air was published by BOA Editions in 2011. It changed my life immensely. I felt so honored that someone would publish an entire collection of my work. And not just someone, but the very smart people at BOA Editions. So, I think it changed how I thought about myself. I began to think of myself as an author. My writing has continued to improve over time since then. My new collection, My House Gathers Desires, that came out in September is definitely an evolution.
2 - How did you come to fiction first, as opposed to, say, poetry or non-fiction?
I’ve always been interested in stories and the escape they provide. I grew up as a gay kid in Ohio farm country, so I needed lots of opportunities for escape. I try to provide similar opportunities for my readers—so that they might escape from whatever metaphorical Ohio farm country they happen to be living in.
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?
I experience writing as a kind of endless circling, moving around and around a story, trying to get something down on the page. It’s very difficult. I don’t plan anything. I can’t. Planning is boring to me. I read a lot of history and philosophy. Those things inform what I do and make me excited to write. The writing comes as it comes. I can’t force it. If I try to force it or hurry it, bad things happen.
4 - Where does a work of 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?
I like working in the short form. Brief, poetic, deeply descriptive pieces. I find that I care less and less about “character” and “plot,” whatever those things are. I am interested in entering the mind of a person who is not me and having experiences that are not my own, so I suppose that’s a version of character and plot. But I try not to think in those terms. Eventually, I try to fit things together as a book.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
I do some readings, yes. But I’m of the opinion that readings are really for the author. They are the opposite of funerals. Funerals are for the bereaved. Readings are for authors. Readings don’t really do anything except make me feel like an author for a day.
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 am exploring, over and over again, what it means to be queer in contemporary America. I never set my stories in contemporary America, but they are always about that, metaphorically or otherwise. I am constantly unpacking my own history, my own experience, trying to make sense of it.
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’m of two minds on this. In part, I think writers should entertain. They should make up stories that people want to read, stories that are fun to read. But I also think there is another motivation, one where we write because we must, because we have something to say, and we won’t be silenced.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
Essential. Editors are so important. The process can be difficult too though, and I think it’s important not to allow the editor to change things that the writer considers integral to the work. I’ve had issues with that. Too many changes can create quite a mess. I think there’s always a balance that must be found.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
That’s a difficult question. I tend to forget pieces of advice. Write every day? That’s a good one: Write every day.
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (short stories to the novel)? What do you see as the appeal?
As I said in previous answer, I love the short form. I love its invitation to experiment. The long form tends to get bogged down with issues of plot or character. It becomes uninteresting. It’s very difficult for me to read most contemporary novels. I always wonder why I am reading them. So, I guess the answer is that it’s difficult to transition between the long and short form.
11 - 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 am a teacher and a writer, so the days really vary. I basically write whenever I can, whenever it fits in. I don’t have a routine because there’s no way to maintain one.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
I always turn to reading. I love reading theory and philosophy and strange antiquated works. I love Sir James Frazier’s The Golden Bough. I love Eugene Thacker’s The Dust of This Planet. I am constantly moving in and out of books as I write.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
This is an interesting question. Certain smells act as a time machine for me. They immediately transport me to another place. I cannot name any of those smells at the moment—but there definitely are some.
14 - 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?
Science certainly. But I like old science, Victorian or Medieval. I like to read the science from before anyone knew what they were talking about. It reminds me of how absurd human beings are when they are “sure” of things. Much of my writing is about not being sure of anything.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
Many writers and writings. There are really too many to name. Here is a gathering of books near my desk right now: The Velvet Rage by Alan Downs, Earth and the Reveries of Will by Gaston Bachelard, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, The Interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, The Mausoleum of Lovers by Herve Guibert, If Not, Winter: Fragments of Sappho, trans. Anne Carson.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
Write a screenplay.
17 - 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’m a teacher as well as a writer. I like talking to people and listening to people. I think it’s fun and meaningful. So it would have to a job where I get to talk to people and listen to people.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
I just really enjoyed reading. I couldn’t really imagine doing anything else.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
20 - What are you currently working on?
A bunch of short pieces set in various periods in history and also a longer work. I recently turned in a novel to my agent that’s a reimaging of Edmund Spencer’s The Faerie Queene.