Nick Flynn (writer, playwright, poet) has published twelve books, most recently This Is the Night Our House Will Catch Fire (2020), a hybrid memoir; and Stay: threads, collaborations, and conversations (2020), which documents twenty-five years of his collaborations with artists, filmmakers, and composers. He is also the author of five collections of poetry, including I Will Destroy You (2019). He has been awarded fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Library of Congress, and is on the creative writing faculty at the University of Houston. His acclaimed memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City (2004), was made into a film starring Robert DeNiro, and has been translated into fifteen languages.
1 - How did your first book change your life? How does your most recent work compare to your previous? How does it feel different?
A: the first book, some ether, took me ten years to write, and the things I had to do to become the person who could write that book (get sober, get grounded, become part of a community) is really what changed me.
2 - How did you come to poetry first, as opposed to, say, fiction or non-fiction?
A: I first tried writing fiction, when I was twelve, because that was what I was reading (sherlock holmes)….I assumed that would be what I would write when I went to college, and I did try. But I took a poetry course with james tate, and poetry seemed more suited to the way my mind worked.
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?
A: each project announces when it will begin. I don’t really control that. I write a lot, and at some point the project rises up out of that.
4 - Where does a poem or work of prose 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?
A: usually more of a collage process—short pieces that then begin to reveal a pattern.
5 - Are public readings part of or counter to your creative process? Are you the sort of writer who enjoys doing readings?
A: I use readings to try out new work, to see if what I think works when alone in my room is actually any good.
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?
A: I always try to write toward compassion, toward understanding whatever it is I am engaged with.
7 – What do you see the current role of the writer being in larger culture? Do they even have one? What do you think the role of the writer should be?
A: I think there is room for a range of writers, and to prescribe any role would be limiting.
8 - Do you find the process of working with an outside editor difficult or essential (or both)?
A: it is essential, at some point, but not too early in the process.
9 - What is the best piece of advice you've heard (not necessarily given to you directly)?
A: still the two words grace paley would give to young writers: “low overhead”
10 - How easy has it been for you to move between genres (poetry to fiction to plays to memoir to hybrid work)? What do you see as the appeal?
A: the appeal of moving between genres? It’s more how my mind works….maybe I’m restless.
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?
A: I used to write first thing in the morning, but since I became a father each day begins with my daughter & getting her ready for her day.
12 - When your writing gets stalled, where do you turn or return for (for lack of a better word) inspiration?
A: I have a million ways to not write, which then lead me back to the writing.
13 - What fragrance reminds you of home?
A: musty cellar.
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?
A: I am friends with a lot of artists and scientists and collaborate with many of them…they inspire me.
15 - What other writers or writings are important for your work, or simply your life outside of your work?
A: the world is vast, and writing is a small but important part of it, for me.
16 - What would you like to do that you haven't yet done?
A: I’d like to build tiny houses in unused office buildings and offering them for free to anyone who needs them. Then I’d ask even used office spaces to set aside 1000 sq feet to be used as tiny houses.
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?
A: I was many things on the way to becoming a writer…writing was just the one that seemed the hardest, that would take me a lifetime to figure out.
18 - What made you write, as opposed to doing something else?
A: I couldn’t figure out how it was done…still can’t.
19 - What was the last great book you read? What was the last great film?
A: Book: Charles D’Ambrosio, Loitering.
Film: Truly Madly Deeply
20 - What are you currently working on?
A: A book called LOW (Graywolf, 2023)
12 or 20 (second series) questions;