Please welcome Jeremy P. Bushnell to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Weirdness was published on March 4, 2014.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Jeremy: I started when I was a little kid, effectively writing "fan fiction," although I don't think that term existed at the time. My fandom of choice was the Japanese TV show Ultraman, which was in syndication on US television at the time. I have a vivid memory of drawing Ultraman comics in crayon to entertain myself, and I think that was the experience that convinced me that "making your own entertainment" was a valid and rewarding thing to do. Everything else stemmed from that.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Jeremy: These days, a plotter. For The Weirdness I kept a big overview in my mind of where things were going to go. Of course, there are some blank spots in that outline, and the actual writing of any individual scene has to be done "by the pants" as it were, at least somewhat. It's good-- and to my mind, necessary --to remain open to inspiration while drafting.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Jeremy: Oh, all of it. I'm not sure I can come up with a "most" challenging part of it. It's not that the little daily challenge of standing in front of the computer trying to decide which word to put down next is any easier than the big challenge of coming up with a book idea or an interesting character: it's just a challenge that operates at a different scale. Fortunately, I enjoy being challenged, so this outlook doesn't really pose as much of a problem as it could.
TQ: Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?
Jeremy: Here's a partial list. Not all of these people are primarily known as writers, but they do all write: Brian Bendis, Octavia Butler, Matt Fraction, William Gibson, Gary Gygax, Nick Harkaway, Charlie Kaufman, Kelly Link, Richard Linklater, Hilary Mantel, Toni Morrison, Richard Price, Joss Whedon, Edgar Wright.
TQ: You teach writing at the college level. How does teaching writing affect (or not) your writing?
Jeremy: Well, I think in my teaching I try to emphasize that all parts of the writing process are important: considering your audience, organizing your thoughts into a structure, making decisions about how each individual sentence might function, revising. All these parts, I teach my students, are made up of choices, and each choice deserves to be taken seriously: given a certain amount of active attention. Emphasizing this principle day in and day out as part of my day job certainly makes me endeavor to enact it in my writing. It would be hypocritical of me to behave otherwise!
TQ: Describe The Weirdness in 140 characters or less.
Jeremy: A thirty-year old slacker, failing at writing, is enlisted by the devil to fight a depressed warlock. That, plus jokes, and sex.
TQ: Tell us something about The Weirdness that is not in the book description.
Jeremy: This is a minor thing, but: one of the characters uses Twitter. I mention it because it's a detail I'm happy to have included--you hardly ever see characters using Twitter in novels. I use it all the time (I'm @jbushnell there) and I didn't want to write a book that didn't include it as part of the fabric of the world.
TQ: The Weirdness is a genre blending literary novel. How would you describe the genres in the novel?
Jeremy: I wanted to write about things that matter to me. Some of that is, for lack of a better word, "trope-based." That is to say that things like necromantic warlocks living in invisible towers still seem cool to me, so I ended up writing something with some fantasy in it. But human beings, in all their complexity, also matter to me, and I tried to write something that would honor that. And the closer you get to writing something with psychological complexity, the closer you get to writing a good old-fashioned literary novel.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Weirdness? Why did you set the novel in New York City?
Jeremy: I don't know if you'd call this "research," exactly, but I do enjoy going down to New York and walking around and looking at stuff and taking pictures and sleeping on people's couches. As for "why"-- the novel lovingly skewers a certain type of literary hierarchy, and although there are writers all across this great land, Brooklyn is really the place where you can't sit down in a coffee shop without encountering an anxious writer. So it seemed perfect.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Jeremy: Billy was pretty easy for me. He was fun to write and I tuned in to his voice and character quickly. The hardest may have been Lucifer. He has an odd and very particular voice-- he appears as human, but he's not human, and although he's a seductive figure he doesn't quite have a perfect grasp on human nuance-- he's always a little bit out of register no matter where he is. That was fun to write too, in the end, but it took a while to find my balance with him.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite lines from The Weirdness.
Jeremy: One of my favorite moments in the book occurs when Billy has fallen into the clutches of the book's antagonist, a warlock named Timothy Ollard. Ollard is using a malevolent wand to torture Billy, and Billy, in an effort to come across as tough, musters his resistance and spits out the words "Fuck you, Dumbledore." For some reason this line still brings a smile to my face.
If you're looking for something a little more family-friendly, I'd go with this account of Billy's youth, raised with an antiquarian bookseller for a father: "Billy had spent his formative years wandering among heaped codices, studies and catalogs and compendia, brochures and pamphlets, extended inquiries into every conceivable topic. From the very existence of these books he learned one primary truth: that everything in the world was enveloped in great skeins of mystery into which one could bravely probe but which one could never fully untangle." That's as good a summation of my own personal world-view as anything else in the book.
TQ: What's next?
Jeremy: I have some secret projects in the works, but the primary thing I'm up to now is working on a new novel. It's about a butcher, Ollie, who is being pursued by a malevolent psychic. It's a darker book than The Weirdness, full of meat and gristle and tentacles and Lovecraftian realms. You're going to love it.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Jeremy: Thank you so much for your time.
Melville House, March 4, 2014
Trade Paperback and eBook, 272 pages
With the literary muscle of Victor LaValle’s Big Machine and the outlandish humor of Kevin Smith’s Dogma, this debut reveals the dark underbelly of the NY literary scene.
What do you do when you wake up hung over and late for work only to find a stranger on your couch? And what if that stranger turns out to be an Adversarial Manifestation who has already brewed you a fresh cup of fair-trade coffee? If you’re Billy Ridgeway, you take the coffee.
“This is some kind of make-a-deal-with-the-Devil type shit,” he says. Lucifer explains that Billy must steal the Neko of Infinite Equilibrium, a cat-shaped statue with magical powers, before the most powerful warlock in the eastern United States can upset the balance of the universe. In exchange, Billy’s novel will be published for a five-figure advance.
Traffic may be in the way of Billy’s getaway car, he may lose his job at the Greek deli, his girlfriend may break up with him, and it’s likely he’ll have to battle his greatest literary rival with his fists… but one way or another, he is determined to become a published author and save the universe.
Along the way, Billy learns about courage, friendship, and love, while considering some important questions: Why do people have pets? Who would store seafood in a warehouse in Chelsea? And where do those bananas in bodegas come from, anyway?
JEREMY BUSHNELL is the fiction editor for Longform.org, and is also the lead developer of Inevitable, a tabletop game released by Dystopian Holdings. He teaches writing at Northeastern University in Boston, and he lives in Dedham, Massachusetts. This is his first novel.