My guest today, Sean Ferrell, offers me personally a chance to talk to an author whose work I absolutely admire and (please forgive my arrogance) you should too.
It’s rare to find anyone that walks the Literary line, to create a work of mass appeal. Sean is one of those rare people. His novel entertains, as well as carries the heart and mind from first word to last.
He lives with his family in Brooklyn, New York
I’m pleased to welcome Sean Ferrell to The Novel Road and in case anyone is wondering… I’m a fan.
|Sunste Park, Brooklyn|
Me: What was the first thing you ever wrote that told you “I can do this?”
Sean: My first holy-cow-comma-this-is-working piece was a short story entitled ,“The Phrenologist's Collection.” It was the last story I wrote while in graduate school, and it was the first that felt like it was really mine. Up to that point I had written a lot that felt forced. I was trying to write in a way that would be accepted and encouraged. I didn't trust my own voice. “The Phrenologist Collection” was the one that told me I was finding my voice.
Sean: Numb is the story of an amnesiac who wanders into a circus and discovers he can't feel pain. This “talent” leads him toward celebrity and self-destruction.
Me: You show a tremendous connection to your subject matter, as evidenced by your crisp plot and characters. Talk about your characters and how they crystallized in your mind?
Sean: I live with my characters chatting in my head for a long time. A lot of what I write doesn't make the final cut, but it's necessary to know them. Numb started as a man telling me about his morning routine, his cleaning of new wounds and working to keep old scars from tightening up. Mal appeared when Numb walked into the circus. He quickly demanded attention and was angry when he couldn't get it. Hiko appeared when I began to think of her artwork—I worked my way backward to her, starting with her work and finding my way back to the woman who made it. Emilia... who doesn't long for a little bit of Emilia in their life? And who doesn't fear it? In the end I get to know them by not forcing anything out of them. I write to discover what they do, not to talk about what I think they did.
Sean: This is a horrible question, because who can I leave out? I choose Pynchon because I'm sure he'd order the entire menu. No, I choose Vonnegut because I'm sure he'd order something that used to be on the menu and then point out that it's no longer on the menu and so it goes. No, wait, I choose Italo Calvino because he'd order something the restaurant didn't realize was on the menu. Or maybe Margaret Atwood, to see her order something that should be on the menu. Or Ralph Ellison, to watch him choke down something that should never have been on the menu. No, Hemingway, because he'd eat at the bar. Or Faulkner, just to have drinks.
Sean: Keep going over it again and again, but stop before you lose your sanity. Put it down for a long time and come back to it later. Write another book before your final edit. Or don't. It's your book, you know what it needs. Be honest with yourself, especially the scary “I don't want to have to work on that part” stuff. The stuff that scares you is the heart of your work. Every book is different. Don't measure how much work this book will need based on how much the last one needed. Every writer is different. Don't measure how much your work will need based on how much your friend worked on their book.
Sean: If something feels like a novel and then partway through it loses steam and you feel like you simply can't get back to it unless someone puts a gun to your head, why are you working on it? Work on something else, come back, or don't. I stopped working on my second novel to write all of my third, and then returned to my second. I thought I'd abandoned it because I'd lost my interest, but I did return to it, refreshed, and churned out another thirty thousand words to finish it.
You will know when a story is a novel. I knew with Numb. Up to that point I had only written short stories, and I assumed Numb was another. Suddenly he was going into a lion's cage to wrestle a circus lion and I realized that when he got out he would be going somewhere else, that what would happen in the lion's cage was the beginning of his story, not the end, and I took a big gulp of air and said to myself, “Holy shit, is this a novel?”
Seriously, I think that if I ever wrote a book of non-fiction it would probably be something incredibly esoteric and academic involving nudity and Star Trek.
Me: The publishing world is changing. Share your thoughts on what you think these changes may hold for authors.
Sean: More heavy drinking, worry, stress, opportunity for self-flagellation. You know, more of the same, only with faster download speeds.
Me: I hear Jeff Somers has sworn off alcohol, become a vegan and that you and he can be found wondering the city streets at night singing songs from "West Side Story"... Care to comment?
Sean: You've got some of the details mixed up. While on a bender, Jeff was found on the West Side swearing. He was wearing nothing but a sandwich-board advertising a neighborhood cooperative organic garden project, of which he knew no details when questioned by police, referring repeatedly to his sandwich-board as his “wash-n-wearables.”
Seriously, Jeff is a talented and good friend, and if it weren't for our mutual restraining-orders against each other we would probably get into a lot more trouble together.
Me: Can you give me your “must read” list?